The time has come to pray Baby Jesús asleep for another year

A.M. Costa Rica file photo A typical manger scene in Costa Rica

Christmas 2011 has gone, and the time has come to remove the decorations and discard or put away the tree.

But there is special handling required for those ubiquitous nativity scenes. One cannot just dump Baby Jesús in a box for next year.

Enter the Costa Rican custom of rezo del Niño. As A.M. Costa Rica has reported:

Rezo del Niño is a religious event with a lot of social interaction and even music thrown in. The evening prayer session is not held on a special day but on a convenient day throughout the month.

Many foreigners are surprised that such activities take place all through January. One year the Museo Nacional had a public rezo del Niño that took place as late as Jan. 25 just before the nativity scene was dismantled for the year. This year the event is even later: Jan. 27 at 2 p.m. Feb. 2, the church festival of the Día de la Candelaria, usually is the cutoff date.

A typical rezo del Niño is an hours long production with live music, much prayer, food, including tamal asado, and sometimes even fireworks. The prayer is centered around the rosary, the assembly of 54 beads Catholics use for prayer and meditation.

A musician frequently is part of a team that makes the neighborhood rounds. Also present could be a mistress of ceremonies who leads the prayers and perhaps other assistants. The family and invited guests gather around the nativity scene, sing hymns and recite the rosary.

Although the event is called rezo del Niño or prayers of the child, Catholics wisely suspect that the easiest way to the Son is through the mother. So the dominant prayer is the “Hail, Mary.”

One round of the rosary is 59 separate prayers. The mistress of ceremonies provides half a prayer and the assembled faithful respond with the remainder.

In the Catholic faith, a full recitation of the rosary is four rounds or 20 decades, but with food waiting and restless children, a single round is the norm in all but the most religious households.

Sweet cakes and even a punch with alcohol or rompope for the adults round out the evening, and within a day the nativity scene is packed away for the coming year.

In Costa Rica there is no separation of church and state, so nativity scenes are found at many public facilities. And a few offices will even have truncated rezos del Niño during the last half hour of a workday. So do social groups and organizations like the Costa Rica Country Club and the Tennis Club.

In fact, the tradition transcends a religious obligation and has been described as a a social tradition that preserves the Costa Rican identity.

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