Boomer Memoir / Costa Rica

Feliz Navidad – then and now!

Christmas Eve in San Juanillo 1992

Christmas Eve in San Juanillo, Costa Rica 1994

Christmas is a big deal to expats. It’s also a big deal to Costa Ricans … but there are huge differences … at least there used to be.

I was a single parent for most of my kids’ lives. Although I had a teaching degree, I worked as a real estate agent in Santa Cruz, California.  My first inclination, as a newly divorced mother of an infant and a toddler, was to become a teacher so I could have roughly the same schedule as my children, with weekends and holidays off. I then met a persuasive real estate broker who convinced me I could make as much money from the commission of just one real estate sale than a teacher earns in an entire year.

I went to work for the real estate company and found out that, yes, while it’s true you can make a lot of money, there are a lot of dues to pay before making the big bucks. I jumped the hurdles, dove through the hoops, dined on Hamburger Helper and Kraft’s Mac ‘N Cheese, and made it to the big leagues.

I then joined the ranks of the more you make, the more you spend.

The year I walked down the stairs of my upscale condo in Capitola, California on Christmas morning and could barely enter the room for all the presents crowded under our designer Christmas Tree, it hit me: “This is obscene!” I stood in line for three hours to get my hands on Teddy Ruxpin, scoured toy stores for the unicorn Christmas ornament I had to have for my little girl,  made innumerable trips to the Mall looking to buy every single item on  list compiled in each kids’ “Dear Santa” letter. I charged every purchase, intending to pay off the credit card with my next commission check which may or may not happen in a timely manner.

I flashed back to the previous Christmas in Nosara, when the expat community put on a Christmas party in the park for the tico children. They were thrilled to get a box of juice, a couple of cookies, and a small toy for which they stood in line, while their parents looked on quietly from the sidelines.

Nosara Christmas-in-the-Park 1991

Nosara Christmas-in-the-Park 1993

Pioneers of the original “Project” in Nosara; Santa and elves passed out the goodies. There were no credit card bills coming in to haunt, no outstanding balances coming in the mail, no stomach aches when you couldn’t make the minimum payment and the commission you had already spent fizzled out due to a dispute over a refrigerator, causing cancellation of the sale.

That moment standing at the foot of the stairs before the kids and Great Dane came rushing down to start the Christmas Morning gift jamboree, I decided this was the last time I would buy into the chaotic Christmas commercialism. Next year we would go to Costa Rica carrying gifts for the tico children. My kids would have the gift of the trip and the joy of giving to others.

We targeted San Juanillo, a fishing village north of Nosara. The dirt-road village was about forty-five minutes away due to the road conditions and several river crossings. The family vehicle was a Suzuki Samarai wich has 2 bucket seats and one back seat. We offered our friend Luis and his family, of Nosara, a ride to the party after he assured us they would all fit in the back seat. There were seven of them including the new baby. We didn’t think it could be done; they proved us wrong.


Luis and family (minus baby), Carole, Chelsea, Tyler

I was proud of my children, who decided, on their own, to set up a “fishing game” at the dirt floor church. I cracked up watching them play “Santa” behind the stretched out blanket barrier. They worked as a team; one would peek over the top to see which kid was “up”, then confer as to the proper gift to put on the clothes-pin at the end of the fishing line. What fun we had!

Tyler setting up pinata

She's got it!

She’s got it!

Mick overseeing the fishing game

Micki overseeing the fishing game

We sang songs, although at this writing I haven’t found the photo proving this to be true. Our friend, Adair, played the guitar and we sang our entire program of three songs: Feliz Navidad, Belen, and Los Peces en el rio – over and over again to a captured audience. No doubt, you know the complicated lyrics of Feliz Navidad. If you ever heard the other two, you know that these are akin to “It’s a Small World After All”.  This song will play in your head for weeks after a trip to “The Happiest Place on Earth” – Disneyland. Do not start!

Tomorrow, Monday, December 9, 2013, the expat community of Atenas, spear-headed by Tina Newton of Su Espacio (community center), will put on the Children’s “Angel” Christmas Party at the local church. The many generous gifts will be distributed, the donated cookies and juices will be enjoyed. I haven’t yet been asked to sing, so I’m not sure about the music aspect of the event, and I’m looking forward to finding out first hand. No doubt “Los Peces in El Rio” will surface in some capacity. While shopping in town yesterday, I suddenly burst into a sprint. Don caught up with me and asked why I ran. “The song. That store was playing the song!”

Puzzled, he asked: “What song?”

“Ayyyyyeeeeee! Los Peces en El Rio!” Just explaining it set it off. it played in my head all day … alternating with Feliz Navidad!

Carole and Micki (Mom). Feliz Navidad!

Carole and Micki (Mom). Feliz Navidad!

20 thoughts on “Feliz Navidad – then and now!

  1. By far my most favorite column you have done… have lived a lot of life kiddo and become all the better for it. Progress, as you know, is not necessarily pleasant. I am struck by the recurring theme of less is more…..wonder why that concept is so illusive.


  2. This is such a deeply touching story. It is so obvious that this is why your children are so giving and wonderful…like you! But here’s what I REALLY want to know, how is it that you have not changed AT ALL in 20 years?


  3. Now THAT sounds like a real Christmas, and Christmas spirit—good you you guys: you made it happen and that’s what it’s all about!! Loved it!!!


  4. Omg…I also remember overdoing Christmas. I have become a minimalist, getting rid of lots of extras and over the top excess. But it is still fun to get and give presents, isn’t it?! Loved the photos of you and your mom and the kids.


  5. Say what you will, but that Teddy Ruxpin was awesome!

    Great memories here, and you did a great job of capturing the spirit. Also the photos are incredible! Really like the one with the little girl at the pinata with Santa’s hat all the way over her head as a blindfold. And the one of Luis?! Priceless.


  6. Carole,

    This is the true spirit of Christmas and giving … and a great reminder for me to slow down on the gift giving to my first two grand babies, Heidi & Roman!

    I admire you, Carolina!!! So happy your world is so full of life and love.

    Have a blessed Christmas. Big Hugs, ❌⭕❗


  7. Love your stories.I’ve printed everyone for my own remembrance of Carole’s life long adventures. Thanks for the ride. “)


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