You always hear how Costa Rica has two seasons — rainy and dry. Those two terms are pretty self-explanatory and perfectly descriptive. As you might expect, it rains during the rainy season and doesn’t during the dry season. So far, so good.
However, Ticos refer to the seasons as winter (invierno) and summer (verano) and this is where things start getting a bit complicated. The terms strictly connect to the moisture content of the season — rainy is winter, dry is summer — and that wouldn’t be so hard to “get” if it weren’t that they consequently end up pretty much opposite of what we’re used to in North America.
That is, the dry season or summer begins in late November or early December and winter begins mid-May, so completely backwards for us norteamericanos. To further confuse the issue, the “coldest” part of the Costa Rica year is at the beginning of summer. Huh?
Again, you just have to remember that the terms connect to rain, not to the calendar or to temperature.
I actually think referring to only two seasons is a bit misguided, although pretty universal. (The concept of “spring” and “fall” truly don’t exist here.) Though not commonly identified by name, there really is a third season which is the “windy season” — the first two or three months of summer.
(You wondered when I was going to get around to making sense of the title of “Christmas Winds” didn’t you?!?)
Since the high winds — and “colder” weather — start in earnest in early December, to Ticos this weather represents the arrival of the Christmas season. Mom’s dear little care-giver, Sully, who is certainly no longer a child, still exhibits a child-like wonder and appreciation of the Christmas Winds. ‘Tis the season and all that.
Now, you might also note that I’ve put “colder” in quotation marks — coming from Maine, and now moving to Utah, it seems a bit hard to refer to the low 60s as cold. And you’re only talking about nighttime low temperatures that are a few degrees lower during this cold season than they are the rest of the year. But it is true that with the howling winds creating a bit of “wind chill” effect, that 63-degree morning really will feel much chillier than the 68-degree morning that would be more typical the rest of the year.
As a result, the Christmas Winds also bring the season where every single conversation with a Tico begins with their giving an exaggerated shiver and the words “muy frio” (very cold). And the winter coats, scarves and gloves, and furry-topped boots come out. Muy frio, indeed.
We’re very lucky that the winds really don’t howl quite as fiercely here at our house as they seem to at lots of other places. This is the season where gutters and even whole roofs tend to blow off, we’ve had friends who complained they actually couldn’t hear their television over the screaming wind, and anything not firmly secured would blow away. The only thing like that that we’ve suffered from is the occasion pillow that goes flying from the porch furniture downhill. So far we’ve always been able to retrieve them!
So, like Sully, we like the windy season. Even without a lifetime of association with the joys of Christmas, we still enjoy the big blue skies, the relief from the rains, and unusually nice sunsets. (Now, if it happens to be a “bad” year and it’s still windy in February, some of the charm is likely to have worn off, but for the moment, you’ll get no complaint from us about the Christmas Winds.)
Speaking of winds — although a complete change of subject from the Christmas Winds of Costa Rica — I somehow can’t seem to think about wind without recalling one of my more-odd life experiences about the word “wind.”
Nearly thirty years ago, when I left my nice, normal career to run away to sea, I spent many months as part of the crew on the Sheila Yeates, a small traditional sailing vessel in the north Atlantic. On the bulkhead in the chart-room was a carefully hand-lettered sign reading “wind on Sunday” and for many months I puzzled silently over the meaning.
Was this some sort of silent prayer to the Almighty? (Please, Lord, send us wind on Sunday.) Perhaps a simple affirmation? (There will be wind on Sunday.) Maybe a historical record that we had an unusually high likelihood of wind on Sunday?
And, the obvious second question, was why Sunday? Can’t say that Sundays seemed to be all that different in the sailing world than any other day.
After months of pondering this, I finally asked a crewmate, “What does the ‘wind on Sunday’ sign in the chart room mean?”
The look on her face was priceless as comprehension finally dawned. “It’s not ‘wind’,” she explained. It’s “wind.”
Now, of course, in print that takes some further explanation — I had asked, as you would have assumed, about wind, you know, the kind of wind we’ve been talking about all along here. The kind that blows. The kind sailing depends on. Her reply was pronounced with the long “i” as in “wine” or, more to the point, as in “wind the damn clock on Sunday so it keeps running all week long.”
The old-fashioned ship’s clock needed to be wound up once a week and the sign was to serve as a reminder. I never could look at the sign again, or even think about it all these years later, without having to go through a conscious process to change in my mind from the one word to the other.
So, I guess here in Costa Rica, you could say that the December winds blow as we wind our way toward Christmas. (Or, just to confuse things further, I could say “wend our way toward Christmas….”
Or not. In any case, happy windy season!