‘Tis the season for rainbows, blustery wind, renewable bamboo Christmas trees, and a whole host of wonderful holiday traditions here in Monteverde.

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One of the many rainbows that decorates the misty skies of Monteverde.

Many of the Monteverde Christmas traditions began with the arrival of the North American Quaker pacifists over 50 years ago, though these traditions have since evolved to reflect the diverse community that now calls these mountains home. The weekend before Christmas we participated in a mash-up, English-Spanish talent show at the Quaker Meetinghouse showcasing everything from a community “kitchen-sink” orchestra to a Costa Rican-themed reenactment of The Gift of the Magi story. After the performances, we shared citrus Wassail punch and the biggest spread of homemade Christmas cookies I have ever seen. On Christmas weekend, we joined in a full-day pig roast, an epic over-the-hill and-through-the-pasture caroling procession, a Christmas potluck lunch and a homemade gift exchange.

One highlight of the season was being invited to the house of Tico friends Sonia and Rolando, who shared their tradition of making homemade tamales–more than a hundred–during Christmas and New Year’s. Sonia worked at the Quaker school for decades, and about fifteen years ago learned that one of her North American colleagues had spent a lonely Christmas here in Monteverde. Ever since, she and Rolando have invited friends (especially those of us who are not well-versed in the art of tamale making) for the big cooking day.

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Our hosts were quick to point out that tamale recipes vary by region and even by family. We started by chopping and cooking the fillings–rice and chicken cooked with bright red achiote paste, peppers, carrots, potatoes, and cilantro. Others cleaned and cut the banana leaves, in which we would wrap the tamales. And still others helped to make the maza, or the corn filling. Sonia’s family mixes mashed potatoes, chicken stock, and a wonderful broth of blended cilantro, sweet peppers, onion, and garlic into their maza. 

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When everything was ready, we formed an assembly line, layering two banana leaves, spooning on a generous dollop of maza, decorating this with the colorful fillings, and then wrapping up the leaves and tying them in pairs with cotton string. The tamales were then placed in a giant pot and boiled for about half an hour. Delicious!

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Our bamboo Christmas tree with a banana tree just outside the window.

Another important aspect of the Monteverde holiday season is the arrival of many, many tourists and visitors to the region. In the next two weeks, I’ll write about my favorite destinations to visit in Monteverde, from cloud-forest reserves to thermal pools. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to spend a future holiday here in Costa Rica.