Archive for December 2011

Don’t be “Fooled” while in Costa Rica!

December 28, 2011

Are you a fool every day, just on April fool’s Day, or surprise!…. you could be proven a fool while in Costa Rica in late December! December 28th in Costa Rica is “Dia de Los Inocentes” (Day of the Innocents), commonly considered “Fool’s Day”, which to us North Americans is customarily celebrated on April 1st, also commonly known as April Fool’s Day in the United States.

Did you fall for any pranks or jokes on December 28th? Did you get caught off guard?? Costa Rican’s love to pull off large and small pranks on their friends and family on this yearly day of tom-foolery. Everything from the simplest of jokes, to the common gesture of putting a sign on your back that might reads “kick me” or “looking for love”, to more vulgar jokes such as wrapping dog poop in toilet paper, lighting it on fire and waiting for the nearest “Innocent” to stomp out the fire, or another favorite in our humid climate, leaving a melting chocolate candy on someone’s seat so when they sit down, it later looks like they pooped in their pants when they rise. All pretty funny, as long as you are not the innocent fool!!

The history of “Dia de Los Inocentes” dates back some 2000 years. The origin of the “Day of the Innocent Saints” is very different in modern times from it’s previous inception as the day in which there was a slaughter of all male children of 2 years or younger. Ordered by King Herodes, he was voted King of the Jews by the Roman Senate, and was considered the Roman Client King of Israel. Not to be confused with his son, Herod Antipas, also of the Herodian dynasty, the elder Herod is known for his colossal building projects in Jerusalem and other parts of the ancient world, including the rebuilding of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, sometimes referred to as Herod’s Temple. He was described as “a madman who murdered his own family and a great many rabbis.” Herod is reported in the Gospel of Matthew as personally ordering the Massacre of the Innocents. Most recent biographers do not actually regard this as an actual historical event, though the legend lives on and scripture has been found that could support the legend.

According to Matthew, shortly after the birth of Jesus, Magi (the three wise men) from the East visiting Herod to inquire as to the whereabouts of “the one having been born king of the Jews”, as they had seen his star in the East and therefore wanted to pay him homage. Herod, who himself was considered King of the Jews, was alarmed at the prospect of a newborn king possibly usurping his rule one day. In the story, Herod assembled the chief priests and scribes of the people and asked them where the “Anointed One” was to be born. Their answer, Bethlehem. Herod then sent the Magi to Bethlehem, instructing them to search for the child and after finding him, to “report to me, so that I too may go and worship him”. However, after they had found Jesus, the Magi were warned in a dream not to report back to Herod. Upon realizing that they would not communicate the exact location of the birth of Jesus, an infuriated Herodes ordered the massacre of all boys two years and under in Bethlehem and its outlying areas.

In regards to the Massacre of the Innocents, although in reality Herod was certainly guilty of many brutal acts, including the killing of his wife and two of his sons, no other known source from that period makes any references to such a massacre. Since Bethlehem was a small village, the number of male children under the age of 2, would probably not have exceeded 20 or so. This could be one of the reasons for the lack of other sources for this questionable account of history, although Herod’s order in Matthew 2-16 includes those children in Bethlehem’s vicinity meaning the massacre area could have measured a significantly larger amount numerically and geographically more in the area of some 14,000 children. The infants, known in the Church as the Holy Innocents, have been claimed as the first Christian martyrs.

How this turned into an annual celebration of trickery remains a mystery. It is said that during the Middle Ages, pagan rites were introduced in to the celebration that for some time came to be known as the “Celebration of the Crazy People” (“Dia de Los Locos”). It was celebrated between Christmas and New Year, a direct show of the significance of Jewish and Christian sentiments during the holy season. Out of this shift in sentiment, over time a new tradition began that combined the underlying pagan sentiment with and the light hearted Christian monks teachings, with the main purpose of the day being the moment to pull all types of pranks on unsuspecting family and friends. Pranks are known as “inocentadas” and their victims are called “inocentes”, or alternatively, the pranksters are the “inocentes” and the victims should not be angry at them, since they could not have committed any sin. It is still not understood how such a morbid historical event could be converted over the centuries to celebrate a completely opposite sentiment and will likely remain a mystery to all.

So if you find yourself in most any Latin American country on December 28th, don’t be surprised if you are the butt of someone’s joke. Be warned, the Costa Rican culture has a wonderful sense of humor, meaning no one is safe on this day FOOL!!

Author:: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.

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A Costa Rican Christmas in that Special “Tico” Style!

December 10, 2011

In case you haven´t noticed, Costa Rica Christmas decorations and discount sales began long before Halloween dates passed. This brings to mind some of our own special ¨Tico¨ Christmas traditions found in our beautiful tropical locale. Be it the kids that start their ¨summer¨ vacations in December, workers that receive their yearly ¨aguinaldo¨ (an automatic one month salary Christmas Bonus from their boss), or the massive preparations of the traditional Christmas Tamales……whichever it may be, ¨La Navidad¨ is just around the corner!

Will there be snow? Well that is highly unlikely since Costa Rica is located only 11° off the Equator, but Costa Ricans are fascinated by snow, since few have everseen the real thing. Many of the floats in the yearly ¨Festival de la Luz¨ scheduled for this evening at 6pm down Paseo Colon and Second Ave in San Jose, are decorated in fluffy white cotton fabrics to give the impression of snow, and many holiday participants threw white confetti at each other, also meant to simulate snow. This year, the municipality once again is put a firm hand down on the throwing of this confetti due to safety factors, as well as the high cost of clean-up afterwards. In years past, there have been many complaints from innocent bypassers walking to work who were suddenly blanketed from head to toe in the white confetti.

Costa Rica´s animal lovers wait anxiously each year for ¨El Tope Nacional¨ usually held the day after Christmas on December 26th. This parade includes marching bands, clowns and other strange characters, but is most popular for featuring some 6000 of Costa Rica´s most beautiful high stepping horses, as well as the famous colorful hand painted oxcarts. These fabulous detailed oxcarts were originally pulled by people, then by oxen, and now are rarely used in day to day work, but are considered historical works of art cherished by the Costa Rican people.

The traditional Christmas tree, more often decorated in hues of blue, gold, silver,
white and maybe a little red, is accompanied by another important decoration, the ¨Portal¨. The Portal is the representation of the birth of Jesus, with the figures of Mary, Joseph, the three wise men, the ox and the mule. The most important figure in Costa Rica is the Baby Jesus. In Costa Rica, Santa Claus doesn’t bring the Christmas gifts, those are brought by Baby Jesus on Christmas Eve. Called ¨La Nochebuena”, it is said that while the family is sleeping, the Baby Jesus appears at the portal and the gifts magically appear under the tree for the morning of the 25th. That is when all family members typically gather around the tree and pray, thanking Baby Jesus for all the good that has passed that year, followed by the opening of the gifts Baby Jesus has bestowed upon them.

The Christmas menu is extensive, but the focus is around the preparing and eating of typical Costa Rican “tamales”. The true “tamal” base is of ground corn, which is
made into a thick dough that is later filled with small amounts of rice, small slices of potatoes, vegetables, green olives, pork or chicken, and finally wrapped in fresh plantain leaves. They are then tied with string in pairs (known as ¨Piñas¨) and boiled until cooked through and through. Making “tamales” is a cherished tradition that involves the participation of many family members and friends, as this is a slow and laborious process taught by Grandmothers from one generation to another. I am lucky enough to have many Tico friends that take pity on my lack of knowledge (or motivation!) to make the tamales and each year give me the gift of the famous Tamal!

Easily, the most chaotic and perhaps crazy activity of the holiday season is the “Zapote Bullfights”, held in the town of Zapote, just outside of downtown San
Jose. It is there that they build a special ¨Redondel¨ or Bull Ring, as well as erect a yearly improvised amusement park complete with carnival rides, amusement park games and a selection of “chinamos”, or improvised food stands. It´s important to note that in the Costa Rican bullfights, the bulls are never harmed, or killed, though the “bullfighters” do not always fare so well (see videos below). The most prestigious cattle ranches provide the bulls for free and it is considered an honor to have their bulls included in this event. Beyond the actual riding of the large bulls (generally done in Costa Rica with NO hands), much more frightening are the bullfighters in the ring. These consist of ¨normal¨ people dressed in all kinds of crazy outfits, that willingly get into the arena in mass without any professional preparation to ¨fight¨ or spook the bulls, encouraging them to chase them around the arena. Incredibly, very few people get hurt or gored during this event, though the activity is definitely entertaining and a big headache for the local Red Cross which voluntarily provides it’s emergency services during this yearly event. It´s interesting to note that this festival year after year draws Costa Ricans from all parts of the country and crosses all social classes.

The Holiday Season then officially ends on January 6th, the day the three wise men arrived and saw Baby Jesus for the first time. That day all the neighbors gather and say a special prayer for the Baby Jesus. This prayer is based on the rosary and traditional Christmas carols. Of course after the prayer, there’s the indulging in
the famous Costa Rica coffee, along with more “Tamales”, “Rompope” (Costa Rican Egg Nog), “Aguadulce” (a Sweet Water like juice) and all kinds of typical baked goods and other traditional beverages. Don´t forget the grapes (no seedless ones here) and the apples, which are considered very special treats here, as they are not readily available or very affordable and kids love them!

Lastly, Costa Rican Hotels and tourism operations around the country eagerly await the arrival of December to usher in their peak tourist season when winter weary snowbirds look to bask in the warm tropical weather and waters of Costa Rica, as well as enjoy the bounty of adventure tours and the beauty of Costa Rica´s incredible natural resources. I hope if you are reading this you are lucky enough to share in our bounty this Holiday Season!

MERRY CHISTMAS OR FELIZ NAVIDAD Y PROSPERO ANO NUEVO!

Author: Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent another 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and Hotel Makanda by the Sea.