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Holiday Traditions in Costa Rica
The season that coincides with Christmas is a very special season for Costa Ricans, for most Ticos it is one of the cheeriest and most beautiful seasons since we are enjoying the most fantastic and friendly weather. As of mid-November we usually transition into the Dry Season allowing us to leave all our raincoats and umbrellas aside, the air is crispier at night since humidity is low and days are clear and very hot. This type of weather is perfect to set us up for some holiday cheer and prepares us to stay more time outdoors and enjoying more time with those we love.
As it is in many other cultures, most celebrations will involve a very important activity, the preparation of food. The food itself is called “tamal” and the activity which is usually a whole-day affair that requires the participation of all the family is referred to as “la tamaleada”.
The “tamal” is technically a piece of corn dough which is wrapped with various ingredients (which varies from recipe to recipe) in a banana leaf, this is for us the official Christmas plate which should always be present in the homes of Ticos. We have tamales for breakfast, lunch or even dinner. The original recipe includes pork and its derivates, nowadays there are lighter versions of their all-time favorite and there are also vegetarian and vegan versions of it. This delicious plate can also be found throughout Latin America with other names and with slight variations in the recipe, what does not change is the concept of a piece of corn dough which contains ingredients wrapped in a banana leaf, there will be variations in size and taste. In Venezuela, for example it is calle “Hallaca” and it is a much bigger version of “el tamal” and it is made with a dough a bit different from ours and it contains ingredients such as beef and olives, and eggs and the taste is much sweeter.
Although we might think that the “tamal” as just food or a Christmas plate lies the heart of it all, the action of making a tamal or the famous “tamaleada” where family members reserve a whole day and gather around in order to make tamales. This is what holds the essence of Christmas in Costa Rica, that of family union and the practice of gathering various generations in a family so that they can share loving moments and pass on from generation to generation the family recipe of the tamal. Since making these delicious tamales usually take a whole day, it provides the perfect setting for family members to sit, talk, mingle, share and join forces to produce a whole bunch of tamales they can take home and share with others later on.