A Costa Rican Christmas

 Adrian Lara portrait

There are two events from Costa Rica that really make the Christmas holiday for me: making tamales and watching the National Children’s Hospital light their tree. Even when I’m here in Lincoln, I make sure to do these two things to observe the holidays.

From December through February, we'll be featuring stories from our Graduate Ambassadors about how they celebrate the holidays and enjoy the break. Including:

A Costa Rican Christmas
by Adrian Lara
Make the Most of Winter Break
by Derrick White
Celebrating Chinese New Year
by Xiaoqian (Annie) Ma


I’ve never had to explain in English what a tamal is, so I'll allow Wikipedia to do that:

“A tamale…is a traditional Mesoamerican dish made of masa (a starchy dough, usually corn-based), which is steamed or boiled in a leaf wrapper. The wrapping is discarded before eating. Tamales can be filled with meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, chilies or any preparation according to taste, and both the filling and the cooking liquid may be seasoned.”

What’s great about the tamaleada is that it’s a family tradition where many people get together to make them. Somebody needs to prepare the dough, then several people (adults and kids) can work together to add ingredients to each tamal. The whole process ends with a delicious meal. When I couldn’t make it home for Christmas, I made sure to continue the tradition by making tamales here in Lincoln with friends.

Photo of the UNL Campus
The first time I stayed in Lincoln for Christmas, I made tamales with friends. Photos courtesy of A. Lara.

National Children Hospital’s Christmas Tree

If there’s one event that makes me tear up a bit every year, this is the one. A few days before Christmas, the Hospital Nacional de Niños (National Children’s Hospital in Costa Rica) lights up a huge Christmas tree in the middle of their gardens.

Thousands of kids are able to forget their pain and distress for a while to think of hope, love, and Christmas. Many other children also witness this event from the outside of the hospital with their families. When you look into the eyes of all those kids and understand how significant it is for them to have those few minutes of complete happiness, I guarantee you’ll cry!

I don’t have my own pictures of this event, but you can visit the hospital's Facebook page. Look at all those kids in the balconies enjoying the light; it really is one of the most amazing moments during the Christmas holiday back home!