A Costa Rican Christmas Story

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One thing that’s sure to make you homesick when you live overseas is the holiday season.

Of course, one reason we left the States was to escape mall parking lot traffic jams, overcrowded superstores, and buying things we didn’t really need just out of habit.

So I am glad to be away from the crass commercialism of Christmas shopping and constant TV commercials advertising $100 big-screen TVs. (And the one where the wife gets a Lexus for Christmas with a big red bow on top drives me crazy—is it on this year?)

I do miss time with family for the holidays. But even here in tropical Tamarindo, on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, holiday celebrations, just like back home, live on.

Having been here several months, we’ve made good friends with a core group of permanent expats. Christmas party invitations—informal get-togethers, really, this is a laidback place—were coming fast and furious over the past few weeks.

No sweaters or chilly weather or standing by the fire—more tank tops and flip flops by the pool.

It’s certainly not traditional, but hanging out with our Tamarindo family during the holidays took some of the edge off not being in the States.

And Thanksgiving last month wasn’t forgotten either.

There may have been no fall foliage; the weather was warm, the sky a clear blue, and parrots and howler monkeys sat in the trees. But in our condo by the beach, we were transported back.

Thanks to satellite TV, we had Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and football.

Most important of all, the good old Butterball was on the table. There’s a grocery store with many imported items in town, including turkey. The price, $60 for a 16-pounder, was a bit painful. But the cost was shared among everybody gathered—and it was worth it for all the leftovers we had after. Turkey is rare in Costa Rica—locals just don’t eat it.

Everything was homemade. That’s an adjustment we’ve made here throughout the year. They either don’t have the “boxed” or prepared versions, or it’s prohibitively expensive because it’s imported from the U.S. So we make a lot of things from scratch, including peanut butter, hummus, pizza crust, pesto, and more.

For Thanksgiving the stuffing was homemade. Fresh cranberries became sauce. There was pumpkin pie filling—but no pie crust because they sold out. We had a pumpkin vanilla trifle instead. It was popular enough that there was more than one request to bring it to Christmas gatherings.

We can’t replicate “traditional” holiday celebrations here in Costa Rica. But we get pretty close while remembering the spirit of the season.

Wherever you are in the world, and whoever you choose to spend it with, everyone here at International Living wishes you a very merry Christmas.

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