Costa Rican Celebrations and Traditions
In February of 2020, my family and I made the move from living in a beach town for a new life in the mountain communities around San Jose, an area called the Central Valley. We moved from Playas del Coco but were in a temporary location while we began scouting for a place to call home. The move required us to look for not only a home but a school community that would suit our family’s growing needs. For the short term that meant placing the kids in public school so that they could focus more specifically on Spanish immersion.
We hired an experienced driver, a Costa Rican, who could help us discover potential neighborhoods. One area of interest was La Guacima. It’s an area that still has a lot of natural beauty while benefiting from its proximity to larger modern shopping outlets within the Central Valley region. During our drive, we passed a quaint and well-manicured public school called Once de Abril (the 11th of April). As I pointed it out, my husband said, “that’s an interesting name for a school.” I understood that he was referring to an important Costa Rican historical date widely celebrated in the country. Before the driver could respond, I spoke up from the back seat, “April 11th is the Battle of Rivas, otherwise, know as Juan Santamaria Day.” and Joshua nodded in approval. It felt good to have been quick to draw out this relevant information. The driver was surprised and with a joyous response said how nice it was to hear that we knew some of our Costa Rican histories. I particularly enjoyed the story of the Battle of Rivas because it involved a female heroine, the first female in the Costa Rican army (when they had an army) named Francisca “Pancha” Carrasco.
Costa Rica is a welcoming country with locals who are incredibly kind to ex-pats. It’s easy to feel at home here without too much effort. However, since we are on this topic of making Costa Rica home, I think it’s important to ponder, how “at home” can we feel without understanding, immersing, and rejoicing in the culture to which we have joined. Understanding the past helps us develop a useful understanding of the present. I believe this helps us connect and feel happier with this new home we have chosen.
Below you will find an outline of the important national holiday with a short description. I have also included a translation and video of the national anthem, one can never be too prepared! Costa Ricans love music and love anthems. There are anthems for each province, which are easy to search on YouTube. Viva Costa Rica!
Official Costa Rican Holidays:
January 1st: New Year's Day
Fireworks are typical for many national holidays. Celebrations with music, dancing, and food are common. In San Jose, the epicenter of this celebration can be found downtown in the Zapote district. New Years’ is celebrated throughout the country on New Year’s Eve.
March/April: Easter Week
Semana Santa occurs the week before Easter. This celebration is very popular and celebrated widely whether someone is religious or not. It is common for many beach towns to become very populated this week and schools take a week to a two-week holiday. Easter is widely celebrated throughout the country.
April 11: Juan Santamaria Day
Also called the Battle of Rivas Is in honor of one of the nation’s heroes, Juan Santamaria. The young Juan helped Costa Rica defeat William Walker and the invading militia. Celebrations are held throughout the country.
May 1st: Labor Day
The Costa Rican Labor Day is a national holiday and is often celebrated with a speech from the president.
July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste Day
Costa Ricans celebrate the day that the Guanacaste province chose their nation over neighboring Nicaragua in 1824. The largest celebrations take place throughout Guanacaste. However, It is celebrated throughout as well.
August 2: Patron Saint Day
Is one of Costa Rica’s largest religious holidays – pilgrims march on foot or on their knees toward Cartago’s Los Angeles Basilica to pay honor to La Negrita and ask for a wish to be granted for them.
August 15: Mother's Day
This is a well-respected holiday in honor of the maternal. Schools often create special events for mothers and grandmothers and women may receive commercial discounts and specials.
September 15: Independence Day
This marks Costa Rica's independence from Spain. It is widely celebrated through festivities and cultural events. Traveling south from Guatemala, the flame of independence arrives in Cartago on this day. It is common for children to make lanterns at school, they have their lanterns on display in parades or in competitions.
November 2: All Soul's Day
Dia de Los Inocentes is Costa Rica’s version of Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead, where people pay their respects to lost loved ones.
December 1: Military Armed Forces Abolition Day
This marks the day when Costa Rica abolished their military. Following the end of the civil war in 1948, Costa Rica abolished the country's army in its 1949 Constitution.
December 25: Christmas Day
Christmas is a large holiday in Costa Rica. For families, the school year has ended and is already a week into their summer holiday. Lights, fireworks, other decorations, and festivities occur on and around Christmas day. Families attend mass on Christmas Eve.
Costa Rican National Anthem:
¡Noble patria!, tu hermosa bandera
expresión de tu vida nos da;
bajo el límpido azul de tu cielo
blanca y pura descansa la paz.
En la lucha tenaz, de fecunda labor,
que enrojece del hombre la faz;
conquistaron tus hijos, labriegos sencillos,
eterno prestigio, estima y honor,
eterno prestigio, estima y honor.
¡Salve, oh tierra gentil!
¡Salve, oh madre de amor!
Cuando alguno pretenda tu gloria manchar,
verás a tu pueblo, valiente y viril,
la tosca herramienta en arma trocar.
¡Salve, oh patria!, tu pródigo suelo
dulce abrigo y sustento nos da;
bajo el límpido azul de tu cielo,
¡vivan siempre el trabajo y la paz!
Noble homeland, your beautiful flag
expression to us your life;
under the clear blue of your sky
rest with peace, white and pure.
In the tenacious struggle, the fruits of labor,
that reddens the face of man;
your children and farmers have earned
eternal prestige, respect, and honor,
eternal prestige, respect, and honor.
Hail, oh gentle land!
Hail, oh mother of love!
when someone tries to stain your glory,
you will see your people, brave and virile,
transform their rustic tools into weapons.
Hail, oh country, your prodigal soil
gives us sweet shelter and sustenance;
under the clear blue of your sky,
long live labor and peace!
Other festivities and community celebrations include:
The First Week of January: The Palmares Fiestas is a two-week festival that comprises concerts, bullfighting, folklore, and dancing.
The First Week of January: The Alajuelita Fiestas is an oxcart parade and party to honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas, Alajuela.
Week of January 15: Santa Cruz Fiestas, Typical music, folkloric dancing, Tope, and bullfighting to honor the Black Christ of Esquipulas in Santa Cruz, Guanacaste.
The first week of February: San Isidro del General Fiestas is an agricultural fair with flower shows, bullfighting, and a praised livestock competition. This is held in San Isidro del General, San Jose.
Mid-February: Mardi Gras in Esterillos is a carnival with parades, street foods, music, children's games, and dancing.
Mid-February: CENAC Summer Festival offers free storytelling, theater, movies, and other entertainment at the National Cultural Center in San Jose.
End of February: Los Diablitos Games is a re-creation of the fight between the Boruca tribe and the Spanish held in Rey Curre, Boruca. Fireworks, masks and traditional dancing help bring the scene to life. The indigenous tribe is represented by the diablitos, or little devils, and the Spanish by a bull.
Last week of February: Puntarenas Carnaval is a seven-day celebration with food, music, and drinking in Puntarenas.
February 25: The Sun Festival is an annual celebration of the Mayan New Year that culminates in a fire ceremony and a gathering to promote solar power.
Last week of February: Liberia Fiestas celebrates Guanacaste folklore and traditions and is celebrated with music, rides, and concerts throughout Liberia.
The First Week of March: Bonanza Cattle Show celebrates the “caballero” or cowboy lifestyle in Costa Rica. Bullfights, horse races, rodeos are held in San Jose.
Second Sunday of March: Dia de Los Boyeros, the day of the oxcart driver is a colorful celebration that features traditional parades and the exhibition of the famous and elaborately painted oxcarts of Costa Rica. Held in Escazu, San Jose.
Mid-March (every second year): International Arts Festival is a celebration of performance theater and dance held in San Jose and surrounding areas.
Mid-March: The Fruit Festival. Costa Rica is a country rich in juicy fruits which are celebrated in Orotina, Alajuela.
Mid-March: National Orchid Show, Orchids are common in Costa Rica, they are on display every year in San Jose.
March 19: San Jose Day Fairs, Catholic masses, bullfights, and plenty of street food mark the feast of Saint Joseph; celebrated throughout Costa Rica.
The third weekend of March: International Food Fair is a celebration of culinary arts is held in Coronado, San Jose featuring a generous spread of national and international dishes.
Last Week of April: University Week offers exhibits, and other lively festivities are held at the University of Costa Rica in San Jose.
May 15: San Isidro Labor Day is celebrated throughout the country in towns named San Isidro, this day honors the patron saint of farmers and farm animals with the blessing of future crops and livestock. Fiestas and parades are common.
May 17: San Juan Day marks a 14-mile marathon from Cartago to San Jose.
May 29: Corpus Christi Day is a religious festival celebrated throughout the country.
June 29: Saints Peter and Paul Day is a religious celebration to honor the Catholic saints Paul and Peter.
Saturday Closest to July 16: Virgin of the Sea Fiestas religious activities have food, music, and parades mark the celebration of the patron saint in Puntarenas.
End of July: Mango Fiestas are celebrated in Alajuela because it is considered the City of Mangoes and every July the town celebrates its heritage with crafts, parades, music, and plenty of mango refreshments.
August 30: San Ramon Day Parades offers dancing and music to help celebrate the arrival of 30 patron saints from nearby towns to honor San Ramon’s own patron saint in San Ramon, Alajuela.
3rd week of September: International Beach Clean-Up Day is a modern celebration, this day joins locals, visitors, and divers to get together to keep Costa Rica's beaches and waters clean.
October 9: San Isidro Anniversary is a celebration to commemorate the agricultural town of San Isidro, San Jose.
First 2 weeks of October: Puerto Viejo Carnaval is seven days of Caribbean parties complete with dancers, parades, and live music held in Puerto Viejo.
Weekend closest to October 12: Limon Carnaval is a popular festival with Mardi Gras-style decadence celebrated with parades, loud Caribbean rhythms, rum, and dancing that is held in Limon.
October 12: Virgin of Pilar Day, a day of costumes and dancing to honor the patron saint of Tres Rios, Cartago.
October 12: Corn Fiesta is a traditional party honoring the corn crop held in Upala, Alajuela that includes a Corn Queen crowning and a corn-product costume parade.
Mid-November: Coffee Picking Contest includes music and dancing accompany this contest held throughout the sprawling coffee field of the Central Valley.
Late Movember: The Oxcart Parade in November is Similar to March’s Oxcart Driver Day, this celebration honors Costa Rica’s oxcart and agricultural traditions; held in San Jose.
Beginning of December: Festival de las Luces offers fireworks displays and live concerts start this month-long Christmas celebration of lights.
Week of December 8: Los Negritos Fiestas is a festive combination of traditional indigenous celebrations and Catholic rituals that honors the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception. This is held in Boruca.
December 8: Fireworks Day honors the Lady of the Immaculate Conception in San Antonio de Belen, Heredia.
December 12: La Yeguita Fiesta is a parade to celebrate the Virgin of Guadalupe accompanied by dancing, food, and fireworks. Nicoya (Guanacaste).
December 26: El Tope Nacional is an annual national horse parade that strolls through the center of San Jose.
December 27: The San Jose Carnival is a huge carnival with large floats, live music, held in San Jose.
December 25 - January 6: Zapote Fiestas is held at the Zapote fairgrounds in San Jose and transforms from a tranquil farmers' market to a celebration with amusement park rides, fair and street food, inflatable megabars, bullfighting, and other festivities.
December 30 - January 2: Los Diablitos Festival is a fireside reenactment of Spanish-indigenous battles using mood music and traditional masks and is held in Boruca.