Independence Day in Costa Rica is more than a historic date. La Dia De La Independencia is a month-long celebration honoring the country’s independence, along with the rest of Central America, from Spanish rule in 1821.
During the Mes de la Patria, or “Month of the Nation,” businesses, homes and even cars are decorated with Costa Rican flags, banners, and decorations during this month of historical celebrations.
This is very much a celebration of family and children play important roles in the festivities. They spend time preparing by creating lanterns, decorating the home in the country’s colors, and practicing performances for the patriotic parades. The month brings opportunities for connection, reflection, and appreciation for simple pleasures.
This year marks the 201st anniversary of Costa Rica’s Independence Day and the theme of this year is “El fuego de la Patria nos invita a ser luz”, or “the fire of the Fatherland invites us to be light.” So get out into the streets and chant along with the Ticos: “No escogi nacer en Costa Rica, simplemente tuve la bendicion,” and “dichosa la madre costarricense que sabe, al dar a luz, que su hijo nunca sera soldado!” Read on to learn more about the history of this event, how it is celebrated today, and how you can participate in the festivities.
A History of Costa Rica’s Independence Day
Previous to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, Costa Rica was an unnamed land on the edge of the Mayan empire to the North in Guanacaste, all the way down to where the Incan influence crept north from Panama.
Christopher Columbus first dropped anchor on the Caribbean coast of what is now Costa Rica in 1502. The conquistadors found an organized system of kingdoms ruled by caciques, some more powerful than others. The most famous ruler of the time was Cacique Garabito, king of the western Huetares and the region’s first guerrilla leader. He opposed the practices of the Spaniards and the brutal forced labor imposed on his people. Conquistadors like Juan de Cavallón, the Central Valley’s first explorer (and Garabito’s sworn enemy) settled inland and established a Spanish colony south of what is today’s capital, San José.
In 1561, the Spanish began expanding into Costa Rica and founding towns throughout the Central Valley. For the next three hundred years, most of continental America to the south of the United States was part of the Spanish empire. The Kingdom of Spain generated significant wealth from the work of Latin Americans. Costa Rica formed part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, a large territory that also included Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
Over generations of enslaved people, the voices calling for change became stronger. In 1808, they caught a break when the French general, Napoleon Bonaparte, deposed the Spanish royal family from their throne. Cries for independence created a domino effect across the Spanish Kingdom and independence movements fomented throughout Latin America. This culminated in the Mexican War for Independence from New Spain (1810-1821), which was the most deciding factor in Costa Rica’s independence from foreign rule.
Unlike other parts of the Americas, there was no fight for independence in Central America. After being depleted by the war with Napoleon Bonaparte, as well as other Latin American wars, Spain reluctantly supported Central American independence because the region had become a burden to their overstretched resources.
Nobility from across the Viceroyalties of New Spain met in Guatemala City in September of 1821 to discuss the future of the colonies of Central America. On the night of September 14, 1821, a Guatemalan woman named Maria Dolores Bedoya is said to have ventured out into Guatemala City to mobilize people to participate in the independence movement. She gathered people to fill the plaza outside of the government building where the nobility were to meet the next morning. Rallying for independence and chanting patriotic lyrics, the plaza filled up with lanterns as the people awaited a decision.
On September 15, 1821, while the nobility continued to debate the issue of independence, Bedoya led a celebration among a crowd of advocates outside the palace. With music, fireworks, and a lively crowd, Bedoya’s celebration is said to have spurred on the decision to sign for independence, as those inside the palace heard their noises and feared being attacked by the demonstrators. The official Act of Independence was signed by representatives of Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, which all received their freedom from Spain on this day.
Although Sept. 15 is the day when independence was declared in Central America, it took a month for the news to arrive in Costa Rica on Oct. 13 because the messenger had to travel by horseback from Guatemala with the official notice.
Traditions Surrounding Costa Rican Independence Day
The symbolic torch of independence is a representation of this historic event illustrating the news being spread across the nations by horseback. The torch travels through Central America and is passed along in relay-style from Guatemala City to Cartago, the colonial capital of Costa Rica. Known as ‘the freedom torch,’ it is used to light the cauldron every year on the evening of September 14 and is relayed across Costa Rica by selected students to their various towns. The highlight of the day is the raising of the flag and the singing of the national anthem, and the evening parade of the faroles (colorful lanterns made by children) is a symbolic tribute of the light of the Freedom Torch shared through every town in the nation.
After the country’s singing of the national anthem, the streets come alive with the lights of the children. Known as the desfile de faroles, or lantern parade, families take to the main streets of town with their glowing creations. These candle or LED lit designs of elaborate houses, churches, wildlife, or colorful oxcarts are paraded in a festive manner high in the air surrounded by the sound of music and school bands. There is often a friendly competition between the students to create the most impressive faroles awarded at the end of their walk.
The parade of the lanterns became an annual tradition in 1953 when Professor Víctor Manuel Ureña, the provincial director of the schools in San José, began with close to 10,000 children. He instilled and encouraged pride within the country, which evolved throughout the years into the national cultural tradition that is celebrated to this day.
Costa Rican Independence Day
On the morning of September 15, the colors of Costa Rica explode into the streets and homes as the country’s sovereignty is celebrated. This is a day of joy, honor, and festivities for families and the people of Costa Rica. The true spirit of Costa Rica bursts throughout the country and is a pleasure to witness. Patriotic parades take over the towns as people are adorned in traditional costumes with blue, white, and red as far as the eye can see.
Costa Rican traditional dances are performed where the folk dance known as Punto Guanacasteco is beautifully displayed. Music of the school marching band, drumming, baton twirling, and patriotic hymns fill the streets of every town. Students practice for months in advance to show their patriotism on this day.
The flag plays an important role in the day being raised in honor of Costa Rica’s Independence Day and is predominant throughout the parades of the day. The colors are strong and vibrant like its people. Red represents the generosity of the nation’s citizens as well as the blood shed to defend the country, white symbolizes peace, and blue symbolizes the color of the sky and the idealism of the country and its people. These colors and their meanings are hoisted with dignity and pride, and carried throughout the main streets and towns by children.
Costa Rica traditional clothing for men is usually white cotton pants and a white button-up shirt with a red sash belt, a red handkerchief tied at the neck, and a straw hat. Women wear long, flowing, vivid multi-colored skirts in layers, with a white, ruffled, sleeveless blouse (usually embroidered or with ribbons), a choker band necklace, and their hair pulled up in complicated braids or a bun and decorated with a big flower.
This year, Costa Rica celebrated its 201st year of independence from Spain on Sept. 15. If you would like to celebrate the 202nd year of independence of this great country while living within its borders next year, contact our team today at [email protected] and let us help you on your journey to your dreams.