Costa Rican holidays, Festivities & celebrations (and why you won't have a choice but to join in the fun!)
Once you move down to Costa Rica, you’ll inevitably at some point mutter the words, “Jesus Christ – it’s like they have a holiday every single day down here!” And you are almost correct, as there’s rarely a week that goes by without some celebration, holiday, festival, or religious observance.
Don’t forget that it’s also a grand holiday anytime the most popular teams like Soprissa or Alajuelense are playing, and definitely when the Costa Rican national team takes the field, there is reason to run to the nearest bar or television set and cheer on the home team.
You’ll also realize quickly that, whether you want to join in the festivities or not, these holidays will have a big impact on your life, including jam-packed roads, crowded beaches, sold out stores, huge crowds, fireworks all night, marching bands in the streets at 5 AM, music blasting, power outages, depleted bank machines, and more.
Instead of getting frustrated, angry, or tossing and turning as you try to sleep, I recommend that if you can’t beat ‘em, you join ‘em!
Here is a little information on the most common Costa Rica holidays:
Semana Santa - Easter week
Since Costa Rica is a Catholic country, Easter is a really big deal – celebrated far more fervently than in the United States. Ticos celebrate all week at church, at family gatherings, and also slipping out to the beach for some sun and fun.
The week kicks off at the church with “Domingo de Ramos,” an important ritual where the priest gives everyone in attendance a blessed palm leaf, in remembrance of the day Jesus walking in Jerusalem and was greeted with palm leaves.
Starting Thursday that week, all businesses are closed, and Ticos start their exodus to the beach to party hard. They usually find a way to make it to church that Sunday, where a big celebration ensues to honor the resurrection of Jesus three days after he was crucified. From a practical standpoint, don’t expect any work to get done that whole week in government or private offices, and beach towns like Tamarindo and Jacó will be overrun with Ticos so make sure you have a hotel room booked.
Virgen de los Angeles - August 2nd
Every year, masses of Costa Ricans (Ticos) observe this holiday by walking from their homes to one specific church no matter how far away they live, paying respects to the patron saint of Costa Rica, Virgen de los Angeles. Legend has it that in 1636, The Virgen of Angels appeared to a little girl from Cartago, Costa Rica. The vision actually came to her many times in the form of a small stone statue, asking the girl to build a church on the exact spot it was appearing. So, the people of Cartago did just that, and, to their delight, miracles started happening there regularly. The actual stone statue was discovered on August 2, 1940, so that date was set to honor the saint and the sacred church.
Costa Rican Independence Day - September 15
Costa Rica gained their sovereignty from Spain on the same day as the rest of Central America in 1821, and the nation still commemorates their independence. The display of national pride kicks off with parades, traditional dancing and costumes, street parties, children carrying small lanterns through the street, and plenty of face painting. It all builds up to the arrival of the Freedom Torch in Cartago when everyone in the country stops and simultaneously sings the national anthem.
Day of the Culture Encounter, or Discovery of America
Christopher Columbus may be less popular every year in the United States, but his holiday is still celebrated widely in Costa Rica. In mid October, the Ticos commemorate his arrival in 1502 to Uvita, an island off the Caribbean port town of Limon. The celebration goes on for almost a whole week, with the local residents and visitors filling the streets with color, music, dancing, beauty pageants, and plenty of “Rondon” a local fish stew.
The festivities turn into a full-on carnival like atmosphere with plenty of reggae, roots, calypso, salsa, and socca music.
Columbus’s arrival is celebrated a little more tamely in the rest of Costa Rica, with school children dressing up as different historical figures, like indigenous people or Columbus himself.
Halloween - October 31
The spooky holiday of October 31 is still pretty new to Costa Rica, but they were smart enough to adopt a good party when they see it. Of course, the little kids love dressing up and being walked around town by their parents for candy, but the teens and adults really live it up, planning their costumes for weeks and going all out in a bacchanalian celebration that is Rated R photo-worthy.
Día de los Muertos - November 2
Día de los Muertos, also called Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day) or Día de Todos Almas (All Souls Day), is observed all over Costa Rica, as residents attend Catholic mass and make pilgrimages to graveyards to honor their deceased family members.
Christmas - December 25
Christmas is a huge deal in Costa Rica as well, though the traditions are very different than to those in the United States. It starts earlier in December and revolves around a model of the nativity scene called the Pasito or Portal, but this one decorated with tropical flowers, model houses and animals, and sometimes even fruit. Christmas lights adorn a lot of homes and establishments and wreaths are made of cypress branches and are dressed up with red ribbons and red coffee berries. Apples are popular leading up to Christmas time.
Instead of Santa Claus, the gift bringer in Costa Rica is Jesus, or ‘Niño Dios’ (Child God), who brings the presents while children are sleeping. Neighbors and friends get together to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, pray the Rosary, and consuming plenty of eggnog and tamales. There is a traditional family dinner, and then at midnight on the 25th, most Ticos attend the Misa de Gallo or Christmas Mass – literally translated “The Mass of the Rooster.”
Carnaval - December 27
In many parts of the country, particularly on the Caribbean eastern shores, they celebrate Carnaval on the 27th with parades, floats, music, and dancing.
Costa Rican football - any time they play!
Fiesta a de los Diablitos - December 30
Literally translated as “The festival of the little devils,” at midnight on December 30, the southern ethnic group of Borucas awake wearing devil masks, recreating a fight to the death between the Indians (Diablitos) and invading Spaniards. These days, a bull represents the Spanish and the Diablitos wear plenty of traditional costumes, fireworks, and native customs.
New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day
Celebrating the start of the New Year is a holiday worldwide, but Ticos kick it off with special vigor, heading to the beach in droves to drink and dance on the beach until the sun comes up. Some people light paper lanterns and set them adrift over the beach to say goodbye to the old and bring in the new, while those in the city will gather in the public squares, like in San José’s Parque Central and Buenos Aires, and Puntarenas to keep the party going with their friends. New Year’s Day is a little tamer as everyone has a hangover, or “Goma,” so it’s usually spent celebrating with family.
December and January are festive months in Costa Rica, with each city and town holding its own fiesta. Usually on the weekends, the celebrations take on a fairground atmosphere, with parades, dancing, food, plenty of drink, rides, games, and singing. But the main attraction is usually the bullfights – though the bulls aren’t harmed in Costa Rica. Each town performs them a little differently, but you could literally book your dance card for those two months following around fiestas – and having a blast!
Here is a more detailed timetable of Costa Rican holidays:
• January 1st: New Years Day
• 3/19 - St Joseph’s Day (observance)
• 3/21 - 3/23 Holy Week or Semana Santa (public sector only)
• 3/24 - Good Thursday
• 3/25 - Good Friday
• 4/11 - Juan Santa Maria
• 3/24 - Maundy Thursday (national holiday)
• 3/25 - Good Friday (national holiday)
• 4/11 - Battle of Rivas (national holiday)
• 4/11: Juan Santamaria Day, National Hero.
• Holy Thursday and Good Friday: Religious activities.
• 5/1 - International Labor Day.
• 5/1 - Labor Day (national holiday)
• 6/19 - Father’s Day (observance)
• 7/25 - Annexation of Guanacaste (national holiday)
• 8/2 - Our Lady of Los Angeles (observance)
• 8/15 - Mothers Day.
• 8/24 - National Parks Day (observance)
• 9/15 - Independence Day. 10/12 - Day of the Cultures (observance)
• 11/2 - All Souls Day (observance)
• 11/22 - Teachers’ Day (observance)
• 12/8 - Feast of the Immaculate Conception (observance)
• 12/25 - Christmas Day (national holiday)
• 12/31 - New Year’s Eve (observance) Other holidays:
• 7/25 - Annexation of Guanacaste Day.
• 8/2 - Virgin of the Angels Day.
• 10/12 - Christopher Columbus Day.
Have fun and enjoy every day in Costa Rica - including the holidays!
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