El Portal: A Tradition Rooted In Costa Rica

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    The Christmas Portal (Nativity representation) is a deeply rooted tradition in Costa Rica. Its placement implies planning all the logistics related to its assembly, so the date to start it in Costa Rican families varies. Some prefer to place it from the month of November and others contemplate dates present in the Catholic saints, such is the case of December 8th, the day of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

    The Christmas Portal is a very particular denomination in Costa Rican culture, it mainly refers to five figures: the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Saint Joseph, the mule and the ox. This scene is completed with the placement of the Angel of Glory, the Three Wise Men, the Star of the Child, shepherds and sheep; as well as domestic animals, typical of Costa Rican farms.

    It is important to highlight that the diversity of the objects and images that are placed on the portal do not necessarily have a proportional relationship between the sizes or dimensions that the Nativity scene has, so it is normal for sheep and chickens to be larger, and even a larger proportion of the figure of the Child Jesus. The important thing is to decorate the portal with colorful figures and objects, which not only accompany the scene, but also honor such an important event.

    Some curiosities of the Costa Rican Portal tradition

    Custom dictates that the portal should not be bought, the family should receive it as a gift, with which they will have prosperity and be blessed. On the other hand, if the family places it at ground level, it is with the intention of requesting the mediation of the Holy Family so that God can repair the home.

    The Costa Rican Portal is accompanied by natural elements, so it is common to integrate moss or sawdust, paper backgrounds, plants, trunks, rocks, cucumbers or cypress twigs that provide aroma, food offerings such as: bunches of bananas, squash , coffee beans, beans, rice, corn, and the like; in addition to colored lights that will make it even more colorful.


    Another Tico curiosity is the “portalear” or going to visit portals. This tradition was deeply rooted years ago and over time little by little it stopped being practiced; however, in recent years it has been regaining strength in Costa Rican families. Once the assembly of the portal is finished, it is customary to invite family, friends and neighbors to visit the house so that they can see the new portal. Likewise, it was and is the perfect occasion to share a tamale with some traditional drink.

    When is the Portal removed?

    The removal of the Portal is another date that varies within Costa Rican families. Some prefer to wait until January 6th, the day of the Holy Three Kings, with the intention of giving the kings an opportunity to arrive and leave their offerings to the Child Jesus; Others prefer to wait until February 2nd, the day of the Virgen de la Candelaria.

    The removal of the Portal is usually linked to the so-called “Rezo del Niño”, a solemn space of thanks and, at the same time, to share with family and close friends. Traditionally, it is distributed among the attendees: coffee, sweet water, biscuit, roasted tamale, rompope, rice with chicken, mincemeat roosters of various agricultural products and, generally for dessert, there is no shortage of rice pudding. They are tasted once the prayer is over, and why not, in the house of the guests, since it is also customary in the host families, to give away the famous “motet”, made up of the bread and food shared in the Child’s Prayer.

    The Center for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage invites you to live our Christmas traditions and share them with the people you love the most.

    Resonance Costa Rica
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