San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Lights, smiles ring in holiday season in Costa Rican capital

Christmas spirit officially took to the streets of San José last Friday as one flip of a switch by Mayor Johnny Araya illuminated more than a million lights on holiday displays all over town.

This is the 16th year the San José Municipality has partnered with the National Power and Light Company for the lighting ceremony that serves as the official kickoff for citywide Christmas celebrations. 

“This year represents a very important change for this tradition,” Araya said, commenting on the implementation of LED lights that use five times less energy than traditional bulbs. 

The ceremony began with sacred and pop Christmas carols sung by the choral group Kristel, directed by Carol Guzmán. The choir sang tunes from Spain, South America and the United States with help from the crowd as they waited for the big moment.

“This is a month that invites us all to love and share love with each other,” Araya said. 

While municipality-sponsored events began Friday, the National Theater and the National Children’s Hospital rang in the holiday season Dec. 1.

A live nativity scene complete with donkeys and sheep played out in front of the National Theater in what Adriana Collado, the theater’s director, called “the most legitimate way of depicting the Christmas story.”

“People see it and at first aren’t sure what to think because it’s usually a tradition in smaller towns,” Collado said. “But having a live nativity is beautiful, and we saw no reason not to share it with people here in San José.”

Another heartwarming scene played out at the National Children’s Hospital as 37,000 bulbs sparkled on the hospital’s own Christmas tree.

When the National Children’s Hospital opened in 1964, Marta Montis de Martínez searched near and far for the perfect Christmas tree to place in front of the facility. After 18 years of carefully choosing, chopping and transporting the perfect tree to downtown San José, the hospital’s administration decided it would be easier to plant a tree.

That tree now towers over the hospital’s front garden and delights children and their families in San José as well as those who catch a glimpse thanks to television broadcasts of the annual tree-lighting ceremony.

The event’s most memorable moments included the smiles of some of the hospital’s 214 young patients, who viewed the tree from the windows of their rooms alongside staff and teary-eyed parents. Santa and Mrs. Claus joined musicians and a handful of clowns to interact with the kid-filled crowd. 

Payaso Frijolito, the clown who shared balloon animals with cotton candy-hyped kids, said, “With all these smiling kids around, it’s clear everyone is ready for Christmas to arrive.”

More lights were set to illuminate the city on Wednesday with the annual lighting of the Children’s Museum, and still more will brighten Paseo Colón and Avenida 2 tomorrow, Dec. 10, as the 2011 Festival of Lights takes to the streets of the capital with colorfully illuminated, corporate-sponsored floats accompanied by marching bands from around the country, all competing for a variety of “best” prizes. 

The parade will start at 6 p.m. at the National Gymnasium in La Sabana Park and end at the National Museum by the Plaza de la Democracia. For more information, visit

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