Here’s a way to get a little exercise Christmas Day

A.M. Costa Rica file photo Costa Ricans and expats can settle the Christmas dinner while facing down an unhappy bull

Christmas Day, after handing out toys under the tree to youngsters, Costa Ricans and expats have the chance to get in a ring with a 1,400-pound unhappy bull.

Believe or not, many do. This is the highlight of the Zapote festival, the Fiestas de San José, that take place every year starting Christmas.

Fortunately for most participants, a bull does not have a long attention span. Consequently, as he runs down one would-be bull fighter, Toro is distracted by a slap on the rump or the wave of a piece of cloth.

A.M. Costa Rica file photo No one tells a bull where to go.

Some Costa Ricans are even famous for their exploits in the bull ring. They wear distinctive clothing, like Superman togs, and try to show their courage.

Liquid courage is discouraged for obvious reasons, and informal bull fighters now must have a special insurance policy from the Instituto Nacional de Seguros. Private insurance companies probably will not write such a policy.

The bull fighting takes place in the afternoon at 3 p.m. and in the evening at 9 p.m. through Jan. 1, and many of the sessions are televised. Sometimes the television hookup is international.

Although participants enter with a light heart, the bulls are serious. Sometimes bull fighters are gored and killed. The activity is a mainstay of many local festivals, and a few participants end up at the morgue each year.

Basically the game is one of odds. With 120 to 150 individuals in the ring, including a few women, chances are the bull will never zero in on a single participant. But someone has to win the lottery, and someone has to be elected by the now angry bull.

Sometimes the game moves to the stands. A few bulls have made the leap from the ring into the bleachers. Many have leaped the first barrier into the area where assorted technicians, camera operators and others believe they are safe.

Thanks to good planning, there is a clinic built into the wall of the arena.

Only human participants die in these bull fights. Toro gets to live another day and run down another human.

When cheating death at the horns of a bull becomes boring, sometimes participants turn bull riders. But not for long. After the bull sheds its rider, he has multiple targets.

Eventually, many television viewers end up rooting for the bull as humans slap, tease and otherwise annoy the animal.

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