San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Traditions Blend Different Cultures

MANY houses are already adornedwith twinkling lights and stores are offeringthe latest toys, but to whom are kidsaddressing their wish list? Santa or El Niño(Baby Jesus)? And who is who?Father Carlos Hernández of the LosAngeles Church parish in Heredia,explained that Santa Claus is based onSaint Nicholas, a bishop who lived inTurkey in the third century, whose holinessoriginated from his generosity to those inneed and his love for children.“For Roman Catholics, El Niño personifiesGod’s people. The portal (nativityscene put up in homes and many publicplaces) was started by St. Francis of Assisi.Many of us have one to honor El Niño,” hesaid.Carlos Sandoval, specialist in culturalstudies at the University of Costa Rica,says Santa’s figure has come to obscurethe figure of Baby Jesus because of commercialization.BECAUSE El Niño was born inpoverty whereas Santa is a symbol ofabundance, he says, “Baby Jesus evokes amore family image that makes us thinkabout God. El Niño is more traditional,more moderate with gifts.”For many years, Costa Rican childrenhave included in their year-end prayerstheir wish list to El Niño and if they wonderwhether El Niño brought the woodencar or the cloth doll, parents explain tothem that El Niño also has the ability toprovide them with the money to buy gifts.Kids and their parents still enjoy goingon ‘posadas,’ starting nine days beforeChristmas. “Originating in Spain, theposadas are popular throughout LatinAmérica, in a pre-Christmas process,which starts with Advent,” says FatherCarlos.For posadas, children dress as shepherdsand a couple represent the VirginMary and Saint Joseph.With their familyand friends, they visit homes singingChristmas Carols on their way to theselected house. Once they arrive, they singa song requesting lodging. Inside, anothergroup of people answers with songs, firstrejecting them, but later approving their“stay.” Later, someone narrates theChristmas story and they share some typicalgoodies.CURRENTLY, a blend of traditionsand mixture of cultures exists. While prayingto El Niño for gifts, lots of kids willalso ask Santa for gifts too. Some peoplealso get stockings stuffed with little goodiesas part of Christmas cheer, althoughfew houses have chimneys.In any case, Santa will be available forphotos (and requests) in different storesand malls around the Central Valley.Universal Bookstore’s Santa Claus andhis elves are ready to pose with children asfollows: Avenida Central, 3-5 p.m.,Saturdays; the store at south Sabana Park,2-4 p.m, Sundays, and the store inMultiplaza, 6-8 p.m, Sundays. Childrenare invited to leave their wish lists with thecashiers.

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