Enjoy Traditional Costa Rican Christmas Food this Holiday Season!

christmas in costa rica

Imagine feasting on a flavorful Costa Rican tamale, sipping a glass of classic rompope, and indulging in a slice of Queque Navideño. This isn’t just a holiday dream – it’s Christmas in Costa Rica! In this blog post, I’m going to share with you the unique flavors and traditions that make a Costa Rican Christmas a truly unforgettable experience, especially when it comes to Costa Rican Christmas food.

This is something I’ve got to experience in my over 23 years of living in and visiting Costa Rica, so I’ve had my handful of Costa Rican Christmas food!

Key Takeaways

  • Celebrate a Costa Rican Christmas with traditional dishes like tamales, rompope, Queque Navideño and roast pork!
  • Enjoy the unique flavors of Salsa Lizano and spices in Queque Navideño that symbolize the gifts of the three wise men.
  • Gather around midnight on Christmas Eve for Misa del Gallo followed by a festive dinner – perfect way to honor Jesus & enjoy time with family & friends!

Savoring Costa Rican Tamales

costa rican tamales

Tamales are the cornerstone of Costa Rican Christmas traditions, enjoyed by families throughout the holiday season. Made with corn dough, various fillings, and steamed to perfection in aromatic banana leaves, tamales are a delicious way to celebrate Christmas in Costa Rica. Although they can be found year-round, tamales take center stage during the holiday season as a beloved Christmas dish.

In downtown San José, making tamales is a family affair that often involves large quantities of these festive treats, as they are shared with friends and neighbors during Christmas celebrations. Their unique preparation and mouthwatering flavors make tamales an unforgettable part of Costa Rican Christmas cuisine, especially in downtown San Jose.

Tamaleada: A Family Affair

Tamaleada, a tamale-making event, typically happens around the end of November or the start of December, just before Santa Claus arrives. During this cherished Christmas tradition, entire families gather to prepare tamales. Often, the grandmother steers the process, blending ingredients and utilizing age-old techniques to perfection.

The tamaleada represents a labor of love, as loved ones unite to fill banana leaves with a mix of ground corn, meat, and vegetables. They then tie the tamales up two by two and cook them for hours in boiling water on the stove or an open fire.

When they’re finally ready, everyone gathers around the Christmas tree to enjoy these delectable treats, making the tamaleada a cherished part of Costa Rican Christmas celebrations.

Unique Ingredients and Flavors

The distinctive ingredients and flavors make Costa Rican tamales stand out. They’re made with a cornmeal dough and tender meats like chicken or beef, plus rice, garbanzo beans, potatoes, and a variety of vegetables. They’re also seasoned with flavorful spices and may include ingredients like sweet potatoes and black beans.

To complete the experience, tamales are often accompanied by Salsa Lizano, a cultural staple in Costa Rica, found in almost every home or restaurant and used in traditional dishes.

Rompope: Costa Rica’s Festive Drink


Another delightful part of Costa Rican Christmas traditions is rompope, a creamy and festive drink made from:

  • milk
  • eggs
  • sugar
  • rum
  • spices

Usually served before or during Christmas dinner, rompope is enjoyed as a delicious drink that warms the heart and soul during the holiday season.

Originating from Latin America, rompope is Costa Rica’s version of the widely consumed eggnog, particularly popular in countries such as Mexico. Its rich, velvety texture and captivating blend of flavors make it the perfect accompaniment to a Costa Rican Christmas feast.

Origins and Evolution

While the exact origins of rompope are debated, it is believed to have been created by Spanish colonizers who brought the recipe to the Americas. Over time, the drink has evolved, with each country adding its own unique twists and flavors.

In Costa Rica, rompope is infused with cinnamon and vanilla, giving it a distinctive taste that sets it apart from similar drinks in other countries.

Homemade vs. Store-Bought

As the flavors and ingredients are customizable, preparing homemade rompope delivers an unparalleled experience. The satisfaction of creating something from scratch and sharing it with loved ones adds a special touch to the Christmas celebrations. However, making rompope can be time-consuming and may require some effort.

Conversely, for those pressed for time or hosting larger gatherings, store-bought rompope, available in bulk, offers a convenient alternative. While it may not offer the same level of customization as homemade rompope, it still provides a delicious taste of Costa Rican Christmas traditions.

Ultimately, the choice between homemade and store-bought rompope comes down to personal preference and the amount of time and effort one is willing to invest.

Queque Navideño: The Costa Rican Christmas Cake

A Queque Navideño, a traditional Costa Rican Christmas cake

Another festive delight relished during the holiday season is Queque Navideño, a traditional Costa Rican Christmas cake. This moist cake is made with mixed fruits soaked in rum, giving it a unique and irresistible flavor that leaves you craving more. Its not-too-sweet profile, combined with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger, make it a delightful dessert to share with family and friends.

The Costa Rican Christmas Cake is a culmination of international influences, drawing inspiration from recipes of:

  • Spain
  • England
  • France
  • Italy
  • Jamaica

This multicultural blend of flavors and techniques results in a cake that is both rich in tradition and bursting with new and exciting tastes, making it one of the most unique Christmas cakes.

International Influences

Queque Navideño exemplifies the global exchange of culinary ideas, borrowing inspiration from a variety of international cakes. Some examples include:

  • The British fruitcake, which shares the same rum-soaked fruit base and a mix of nuts and spices
  • The German stollen, which features a similar combination of dried fruits, nuts, and spices
  • The Italian panettone, which also includes a mix of dried fruits, nuts, and spices

These international influences have shaped Queque Navideño into the delightful dessert it is today, fusing the best elements of each country’s culinary traditions. The result is a cake that embodies the spirit of Christmas with its enticing taste and irresistible aroma.

Symbolism of Spices

Beyond their delightful flavors, the spices used in Queque Navideño carry a deeper symbolic meaning, representing the gifts of the three wise men who visited baby Jesus. This symbolism adds an extra layer of significance to the dessert, making it not only a delicious treat but also a reminder of the spiritual essence of Christmas.

Roast Pork: The Main Attraction

A plate of roast pork, a traditional Costa Rican Christmas dinner main dish

Undoubtedly, the star of a Costa Rican Christmas dinner is the roast pork, or ‘pata de cerdo’. This succulent, marinated dish is the centerpiece of the festive feast, with its tantalizing aroma filling the air and whetting the appetite of eager diners. Served alongside a variety of side dishes such as rice, vegetables, and plantains, roast pork is the perfect way to round off a delectable Christmas dinner.

The secret to the mouthwatering flavor of roast pork lies in its marination process, which infuses the meat with a rich medley of spices. The key ingredients for the marinade are:

  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • Cumin
  • Pepper

These spices come together to create a harmonious blend that permeates the pork, making it tender and delicious.

Marination Magic

Marination significantly contributes to enhancing the roast pork, taking it to extraordinary culinary heights. The process of marinating the pork allows the flavors to seep deep into the meat, ensuring that each bite is bursting with scrumptious taste.

A well-marinated roast pork is not only flavorsome but also tender and succulent, making it the star of the show at any Costa Rican Christmas dinner.

Perfect Pairings

To fully appreciate the exquisite taste of roast pork, it is essential to pair it with complementary side dishes. Traditional Costa Rican sides such as:

  • rice
  • mashed potatoes
  • greens
  • salad

not only provide a delicious accompaniment but also allow the flavors of the roast pork to shine through.

Together, these dishes create a well-rounded and satisfying traditional Christmas dish that is sure to leave a lasting impression on all who partake in the Christmas dinner.

Other Traditional Christmas Treats

A plate of churros, a traditional Costa Rican Christmas treat

In addition to tamales, rompope, Queque Navideño, and roast pork, there are several other traditional Christmas treats that Costa Ricans enjoy during the holiday season. Churros, manzanas escarchada, and Arroz con Leche all make appearances at festive gatherings, offering a sweet and satisfying end to the Christmas feast.

Churros: A Sweet Indulgence

Originating from Spain and Portugal, churros are a type of fried dough pastry and a popular sweet delicacy in Costa Rica. Served either with a thick dipping chocolate or simply on their own, these golden, crispy delights are a must-have during the Christmas season.

Their irresistible taste and texture make churros a welcome addition to any holiday celebration.

Manzanas Escarchada and Arroz con Leche

A delicious plate of Manzanas Escarchada and Arroz con Leche, traditional Costa Rican Christmas food

Manzanas escarchada, or candied apples, are another traditional Costa Rican dessert enjoyed during Christmas festivities. These sweet treats are made by covering apples in a sugary syrup, usually flavored with cinnamon, and then decorating them with colorful toppings. The combination of the juicy apple and the crisp, sweet coating creates a delightful contrast that is sure to please both children and adults alike.

Arroz con Leche, a creamy rice pudding, is yet another popular dessert that graces the tables of Costa Rican households during the Christmas season. Made by cooking rice in milk, sugar, and cinnamon, Arroz con Leche is a comforting and delicious treat that warms the soul during the cold holiday nights.

Costa Rican Christmas Dinner Timing

A family gathering to celebrate Costa Rican Christmas dinner

Following the Misa del Gallo, or Midnight Mass, Costa Rican Christmas dinner is typically served at the stroke of midnight on Christmas Eve. This timing is deeply rooted in tradition and is observed by many Costa Rican families as a way to celebrate the birth of Jesus together. Gathering around the table at this hour adds a special touch to the Christmas festivities, making the meal a cherished and memorable experience.

Before indulging in their Christmas dinner, many Costa Ricans attend the Misa del Gallo, a spiritual celebration. This Midnight Mass is an opportunity for reflection and prayer, as well as a time to rejoice in the birth of Jesus. After the mass, families return home to share a delicious and hearty meal, complete with traditional Costa Rican dishes and treats.

Misa del Gallo: A Spiritual Celebration

Misa del Gallo, or Midnight Mass, holds a special place in the hearts of many Costa Ricans during the Christmas season. This spiritual celebration allows families and friends to come together in prayer and reflection, as they honor the birth of Jesus and the true meaning of Christmas.

The Misa del Gallo sets the stage for the festive Christmas dinner that follows, creating a unique blend of spiritual and culinary delights during the Festival de la Luz.

Family and Festivities

Christmas in Costa Rica is all about family and festivities. The holiday season is a time when loved ones gather to share delicious food, exchange gifts, and create cherished memories together. Traditional Costa Rican dishes like tamales, rompope, Queque Navideño, roast pork, and other delectable treats play a central role in these celebrations, providing a flavorful backdrop to the joyous occasion.

So, whether you’re a local or a visitor looking to experience the magic of a Costa Rican Christmas, don’t miss the opportunity to savor these delightful holiday dishes.


In conclusion, Costa Rican Christmas food is a delectable blend of tradition, flavors, and family. From the savory tamales and succulent roast pork to the sweet Queque Navideño and comforting rompope, each dish adds a unique touch to the holiday season. As you gather with loved ones to celebrate Christmas, why not try incorporating some of these delicious Costa Rican dishes into your own festive feast? You might just discover a new favorite tradition.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do Costa Ricans eat during Christmas?

Costa Ricans enjoy tamales, baked pork legs and plenty of eggnog during the festive season; each dish having its own special significance in the hearts of all Costa Ricans.

What is traditional Christmas in Costa Rica?

In Costa Rica, Christmas is celebrated with Nativity scene decorations, called pasitos or portals, and Misa de Gallo services. Families come together for a feast of roast pork leg, tamales, eggnog and other delicious traditional dishes. Offerings such as fruits and toys are placed before the Nativity scene as part of the celebration.

What are the main components of Costa Rican tamales?

Costa Rican tamales are made with a delicious combination of corn dough, pork, veggies, potatoes and rice – a truly mouth-watering experience!

When is Costa Rican Christmas dinner typically served?

Costa Rican Christmas dinner is typically served at midnight on Christmas Eve, after the Misa del Gallo service.

What is rompope?

Rompope is a creamy, delicious drink made with milk, eggs, sugar, rum, and spices – perfect for celebrating the Christmas season!

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