San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

‘Deerly’ Beloved Animals Liven Up the Season

They pop up along roadsides and in markets around Christmastime, and with their “endeering” straw-like qualities, they have become as much a part of the holiday scene as the tree, stuffed stockings and nativity scenes.

These deer figures are actually made out of wood shavings, and disagreement exists regarding where they originated. Venacio Cordero, from the northwestern Central Valley coffee town of Naranjo, claims he invented the process in 1994 using cedar shavings wrapped around stick frames. However, he says, the cedar dried out too fast and got attacked by insects, so he now uses a cultivated wood called campaño.

With the help of his family, Cordero makes about 12,000 deer figures a year at his Naranjo workshop and sells them at stands, in stores and along highways across the country. His own spot to sell is just east of the tollbooth, at the Naranjo exit, on the

American Highway west

to Puntarenas.

The deer come in several sizes, plain or decorated with faces and ribbons, and start at ¢1,200 ($2.20) for the small ones.

Rafael Molina, who has a workshop in another western coffee town, Atenas, says he learned to make the deer in his native Nicaragua before coming here 10 years ago. He uses a chainsaw to shred logs into fine shavings; a meter-long log will produce three deer, he says. Though just about any wood will do, Molina prefers pine or cedar.

It takes about an hour to make a deer, starting with a wooden frame for the body, neck and legs. This is filled out with shavings, glue and thread and can be formed and shaped in the process, giving each deer a personality.

They may be coy, flirtatious, shy or haughty. Molina, a fruit and vegetable vendor, says his whole family helps make and decorate the deer at his home, and he then sells them along the highway between Atenas and Alajuela, northwest of the capital. His deer come in three sizes, starting at ¢2,000 ($3.60) for “babies,” ¢3,000 ($5.40) for young adults and ¢5,000 ($9) for the biggest. Last year he sold about a thousand, he says.

Molina uses the same process to make sleighs and stables for nativity scenes.


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