Nativity scene contest highlights the traditional and cultural importance

This somewhat macabre portal was the winner last year in the artistic category. The Centro identified the creators as Darío and Dennis González.

This somewhat macabre portal was the winner last year in the artistic category. The Centro identified the creators as Darío and Dennis González.

Again this year, the Centro Cultural e Histórico José Figueres Ferrer in San Ramón is sponsoring a contest for those in that area who create portales.

The portal is better known as a crèche or manger scene in English, and it is a traditional aspect of the Costa Rican Christmas.

This year again one category will be for portales made from recycled materials.

Portales really are a big deal at Christmas. They span the church-state divide because nearly every government office puts up a portal. Some years there are portales on the lawn of the Corte Suprema de Justicia.

The central government may be cracking down on expensive Christmas parties by public employees using public money, but expats can bet that there will be no shortage of portales.

The most elaborate usually is the one erected on the grounds of the Teatro Nacional. Each year the theme is a secret. There have been jungle manger scenes, desert manger scenes and more traditional ones.

Some churches offer living manger scenes with characters playing biblical figures and mixing with domesticated animals like burros and cows.

The Bible, primarily in Luke, says that Jesus Christ was born in a stable and placed in a manger. Religious academics argue at length as to whether the location was a barn, a cave or even a house. The arguments extend to whether or not the town of Bethlehem even existed at that time.

Portal builders ignore the arguments. There is Mary, Joseph, shepherds, angels, and Wise Men surrounding Christ in a manger.

The Centro José Figueres seeks to maintain the traditional concept. The portal is a Christmas tradition that forms part of the cultural identity of the country, said Fernando González, director of the Centro. He spoke against the addition of foreign elements in the manger scene that do not conform to tropical conditions or the cultural inheritance of the nation. He would not approve of a StarWars portal.

Applications for the contest are being accepted until Dec. 5. Then teams of judges will visit the various sites.

One category will be the traditional one that uses materials that might have been used years ago, such as sawdust and wool.
Another category is the biblical one that is supposed to reflect the biblical story.

Recycled constructions will be in the artistic category. Then there is an institutional category for organizations to enter a portal.

San Ramón area residents can enter the contest by emailing the Centro or by calling 2447-2178.

The name Bethlehem is Belén in Spanish, and the popular term has affixed itself to many locations in Costa Rica, indicating the popularity of the tradition.

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