Humor: An aspect of Christmas in Costa Rica that never fails to dismay me is the fireworks that seem all out of sync with the nature of the holiday. Here’s a nation whose chief export seems to be messages of peace, yet a sizable representation of the population rushes out to buy firecrackers and other explosive devices this time of year.

Peace on earth (BANG!) Good will toward men (BOOM!) seems to be the conflicting message here. It’s hard to sing “Silent Night” inside when outside it sounds like the terrorist attack on Mumbai. (We won’t even mention the obvious danger to unsupervised children. Doctors who man the emergency room at National Children’s Hospital dread this season, yet stupidity reigns among parents. What’s the loss of a few fingers among friends?)

Even adults are at hazard, especially on New Year’s Eve when their alcohol intake is often not diluted by eggnog. Why does the Christ child seem to be riding into town to the smell of gun smoke instead of the way he’s depicted by several million Nativity scenes throughout the country? Downtown we have the Festival of Lights. In our neighborhood, we have the Fiesta of Dim Bulbs.

I must admit I’m not a fan of snow. (Why does snow have to be so darned cold?)  When I was an Oregon resident, we lived on a 100 by 150 foot lot. That meant 250 feet of sidewalk to shovel, bundled up against the cold so I could hardly move. During my last winter there, it snowed twice.

But snow has an advantage —it provides a fluffy layer of white soundproofing over everything so even passing cars seem to run hushed on electricity. On a clear evening, you can almost hear the stars softly chiming against the black velvet sky. If only we could figure out how to get the same effect when the temperature here is 70 degrees F.

If I sound a trifle bitter about this strange, intrusive tradition, it may be because I am. When my late Basset hound Richy was alive, the bombetas terrorized him, as often happens with dogs. Bassets are noble, sweet, peaceful dogs but not exactly Einstein between their long, luxurious ears.

Even though he survived a series of holiday seasons, when the fireworks started he seemed certain each year that the end of the planet was nigh. He would howl until I came out to his sleeping area where I had a comfortable chair. I know I should have let him tough it out from his first puppyhood Christmas, but when he looked at me with those huge brown eyes, as if pleading with me, “Daddy, make it stop!” I couldn’t resist trying to comfort him.

I’d tell him everything was all right and that I would not let anything hurt him but to no avail. When a burst of firecrackers went off, he shook with fear and tried to climb into my lap for safety, even though he had learned long ago not to clamber up on the furniture.

If you’ve ever had 45 lbs. of muscle and drool tromping around on your lap, you’ll know why I began to hate some of my neighbors and their warlike celebrations until the last explosion had faded into blessed silence. He seemed to be trying to make himself small enough to take cover inside my shirt pocket. The bruises from his frantic paws, each the size of the head of a golf driver, on my thighs were a hallmark of the season.

Of course, holidays are often a test for house pets, as our 14 pound Siamese cat Chu discovered in Oregon years ago when he tried to climb the Christmas tree, with predictably disastrous results. (For two years after that fiasco, our little daughter, instead of saying, “Merry Christmas” during the season would respond, “Ti-i-mberrrr!”)

Later, Chu got into the holiday spirit by standing on his hind legs to delicately nibble at the strings of popcorn that decorated the tree, without so much as touching a branch or needle. By Christmas Eve, only white thread wrapped the tree as far up as he could reach.

It was also rough on Richy. He had to be constantly reprimanded for nosing around the Nativity scene with a puzzled nose and clunky feet. He needed only four years for this prohibition to stick in his disordered mind. It became so ingrained then that, when I wrapped the biggest rubber bone that I could find to put under the tree, he left it strictly alone. When I gave it to him with words of praise Christmas morning, he furtively sneaked out to the front steps to unwrap it.

Of course, I’m on pretty shaky ground here, because some holiday customs imported from my native land appear a trifle weird. Last week, I saw two unlikely inflatable snowmen on the roof of the guard house of a Desamparados shopping mall. The wind had knocked one on his back and the other face down on top of him. With the wind juggling them, they appeared to be engaged in some intimate activity not commonly identified with the season…

This piece is based on an opinion column that appeared in The Tico Times Dec. 24, 2009. It caused many comments of approval from dog owners. It apparently has had no affect on the sales of fireworks.

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