Downtown San José retail shop offering “Mes Negro” (Black Month).

There is a level of insanity on display in Downtown San José that has been going on during the past week. People are on the streets by the hundreds of thousands. The stores are jammed, the fast food restaurants are overflowing and people are spending their brains out.

The cause of this madness is the “Black” discount days. What started out to be “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving, has morphed into “Black Weekend,” then “Black Week,” and now heaven help us, “Black Month.”

That’s right “Mes Negro!”

The unfortunate term, “Black Friday,” originated in the 1960’s in Philadelphia of all places, to indicate the busiest shopping day of the year. There are many explanations about how the name originated, but what matters is that the day after Thanksgiving is considered to be the kickoff to the Christmas buying season.

So why is this happening in a country that doesn’t even celebrate Thanksgiving?

Mes Negro discounts are being offered by a variety of stores in the downtown core of San José
Mes Negro discounts are being offered by a variety of stores in the downtown core of San José

Well part of the answer involves a custom known as Aguinaldo. Actually, Aguinaldo is more than a custom, it is the law. It requires employers in Costa Rica to pay their employees two months salary during the month of December.

That means every worker in Costa Rica is suddenly flush with cash during the month of December. And the merchants do their best to relieve them of it. They offer discounts and promotions and generate excitement with advertising campaigns.

After watching the frenzy that takes place in the United States every year, the good merchants of Costa Rica decided to adapt the “black” buying season, even though it starts before most Tico workers get their Aguinaldo payments.

However, in a ghoulish twist, they have taken a season that is symbolized by the colors red and green, and they decorate their stores with black balloons and black crepe paper. Somehow this draws people into the stores. You can see this macabre décor in store fronts all over Downtown San José.

Visitors and expats from the United States are certainly aware that many of the accomplishments and customs of their country have been adapted and imitated by societies all over the world. Everything from representative democracy to rock ‘n roll.
But many find it painful to see this hideous characteristic of American life so eagerly accepted by our Costa Rican friends. And some are trying to make the whole month “black”!

For better or worse, this is all part of “the real San José.”


Michael Miller is the author of The Real San José, the first and only guide book that focuses on Downtown San José.


Captions to the photos

1. Lovely black balloons and crepe paper draw in the crowds.

2. Black Friday has morphed into Mes Negro or Black Month.

3. Nothing is sacred during the Black Season.

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