Sunday, September 19, 2010

Overlapping Holidays

In the states, we have seen the Christmas holiday creep earlier and earlier. Time was, the official start of the Christmas season was the day after Thanksgiving. You could pretty much count on enjoying your Thanksgiving holiday without another holiday invading, then finish it off with a Christmas parade or the first Christmas movie.

I think the earliest I have seen ads for Christmas decorations was a couple of years ago - the day after the 4th of July! Something about pre-ordering your custom decoration for your collection. At this point, not only is Thanksgiving incorporated, but Halloween as well - as soon as the Halloween candy is taken off the shelves, it is replaced with Christmas candy.

When we first moved to Costa Rica, we kidded ourselves - we felt like we were getting away from the USA-style Christmas over-hype. And in a way, we were. It feels different here. Less corporate-controlled, more relaxed, more joyful. However. sigh. If it can be believed, Christmas starts even *earlier* here!

The Christmas-trigger here is now Independence Day (September 15). We went shopping for paper and tape (basic stuff) the day after, and the stores were chock full of Christmas decorations! Window space is a premium now, with flags vying with Christmas ribbon for that eye-level spot. The flags, seals, and buntings are still available, but enormous sections of other goods have been moved aside. One store had reduced its books by about a third, and replaced them with toys. (As an avid reader, I find that sad.)

Notice, however, that the shelves and windows are still full of Independence Day items! In Costa Rica, Costa Rican independence is celebrated the entire month of September - flags and seals go up, storefronts erect enormous drapes of color, school bands practice marching, parks and government buildings are cleaned and painted... The country is full of pride and independence-day spirit.

So, does your average Tico really do much about Christmas this early? I'm sure some thinking starts, but I've asked a few people here and there about it, and most usually get started after the first of November - that's when Christmas trees go up, and decorations become noticeable. The fiestas really kick in at the beginning of December, when the aguinaldos are due - these Christmas bonuses are mandated by law, and amount to an extra month of pay.

What about the other end of Christmas? A few years ago, I was surprised to see a woman buying wrapping paper on Christmas eve - I thought "wow, she really put this off, eh?" But I have since found that gift-giving is also spread out. January 6th is the *big* gift-day, and the official end of Christmas.

For us, the best part of the season are all the fiestas - they are nearly back-to-back, in every town. It is truly a different sort of celebration.

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