When we travel, one of the things that seem most fascinating are the traditions of the country you are visiting. Some of them we might have in our country, some of them are totally strange for us. All of them done in a way that is completely different to what we are used to experience.
Traditions in Costa Rica are strong and the base of our culture, however, there are some that you should read about before joining and getting a surprise.
Day of Saint Bartholomew in Barva de Heredia, the Bladders War:
Every August 24th, the day of Saint Bartholomew is celebrated in may ways, it is a pretty well-known celebration, in England, they do a famous fair since 1133, and in France the commemorate an infamous massacre. In the town of Barva, in the Central Valley, it’s a day of funny and scary masks and bull’s bladders.
People prepares for this day, they buy -and even rent- the masks and go to the butcher’s shop to buy bladders for an unusual, fun and painful war.
You see… Saint Bartholomew was flayed to death, and as a reminiscence of the terrible martyrdom that the holy man suffered, lots of people in this town go out to the streets and in the midst of music and dancing they hit each other with the inflated (With water or air) as you can see in the video below. The idea is to cause as much pain in the other people’s backs as possible.
And yes! It is fun, and it is as typical as it can be… However, if you want to join the celebration, get way from those bladders… They hurt!
The Annual Pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago
The legend says that back in 1635, a little indigenous girl found an image of a black stone virgin over a river stone when she was getting wood from the forest. She thought it was a doll, took it home, and came back to where she was picking wood, and there it was, again! After several trials, she decided to take the image to the priest, who kept it in the church, but the image kept on coming back to the same area until finally, they decided to make a church for her there.
Ever since the image has been considered to do miracles and people comes from everywhere in Costa Rica and even Panama and Nicaragua to beg or thank the Virgin of the Angels for the conceded miracles
However, on August the 2nd, thousands of people from everywhere in Costa Rica walk to the Basilica de Los Angeles church in Cartago. People walk for hours and even days to carry out promises done to the Virgin of the Angels. They celebrate a solemn mass in the main basilica and come back home.
You can see glimpses of these pilgrimage in the following video:
The little devils’ dance
The borucas (a group of indigenous people of the South of Costa Rica) make a dance called “El Baile de Los Diablitos” which means the Devils’ dance. This tradition started in the colonial days as the South of Costa Rica was never actually conquered by the Spanish. Although, a lot of people thinks that the tradition is older than that and it is thought that this is a pre-Columbian celebration that only changed masked and animals involved.
Each of the dancers makes their wooden mask, and then they paint them. The people that wear the devil masks represent the borucas, and there is one man with a bull mask that represents the Spanish conquerors.
The symbol of this three-day celebration is how the indigenous became like devils harassing the Spanish (Bull) while the Spanish wanted to hurt the native and enslave them.
The party takes three days, but starts even before, with the birth of the devils, in the middle of heavy drinking, a banquet, and fireworks. Then for three days there are three fights a day, and on the second day the bull kills the devils’ they resurrect and go searching for him in the wilderness, Find him, bring him back to town and then on the third day, they burn the disguise and drink and eat what would be the symbols of the flesh and blood of the bull.
The three most important native communities of the South of Costa Rica consider this party to be the main celebration and people comes from all over the region to the areas where they do it.
It can turn to be quite violent at times, and if you decide to join, just be careful.
September 15th, Independence Day:
It is one of the biggest street celebrations in Costa Rica. Wherever you are in the country, you will see ladies and girls wear long colorful skirts and men and boys wearing hats, machetes, and handkerchiefs.
There are parades in every single town of Costa Rica, and if there is a school, there is a parade. Some of them are quite big, like the one in San Jose downtown. As we don’t have an army, there isn’t any military display, and the music is very joyful.
The 15th September the streets get red, white and blue (Costa Rica´s flag colors). The “mascaradas” and the “cimarronas” come, cimarronas are groups of people with drums that play Costa Rican traditional music, and “mascaradas” are people dressed with scary masks that dance and chase the people. People sell traditional food in the streets and decor their houses and businesses.
The Carnival at Limon:
The idea of the carnivals started from Brasil (Actually originated in Portugal) to the Caribbean and Panama, and then in 1946 to our port of Limon.
People dress in all colors, have their dancing groups called “comparsas” that rehearse throughout the year and create amazing shining costumes for these days.
You´ll hear reggae and drums down the streets. Thousands of people travel to Limón to see this spectacle. And if you are planning to go this year, be careful. There is heavy drinking, and drugs usage is quite common (Even though is illegal).
The carnival of Limon takes place on October, which is the sunny season of the Costa Rican Caribbean.
Palmares is a town in Alajuela, right next to the Panamerican Highway and in January they open a great festival with concerts, bull riding, and fighting, the “tope” the tope is a big horse parade, where everybody that has horses brings them as a way to exhibit them.
As well there is an amusement park, lots of dancing and heavy drinking. If you are planning to go, be careful, have patience on the road (Usually there are lots of traffic jams) and be alert as there is usually a lot of pocket picking.
The Light Festival
On the second Saturday of December, the center of San José gets very bright and colorful. They make concerts, and people bring their colorful carts to the parade. People hang lanterns in the streets, and at night it gets very bright. The San Jose government creates big fireworks; there are bands, streets dances and a great parade.
Right after Christmas and all the way to the first weekend of January there is Zapote: Bullfights, fireworks, an amusement park, fun games and dancing places open from early in the morning until midnight.
Zapote is a town in the outskirts of the city of San Jose, and these feast is very popular among the city inhabitants as in this week a lot of Costa Ricans take their vacation.
The bullfights in Costa Rica are, like you will see in the video, several men teasing a bull. No pain is inflicted to the bull.
Written by Emilio Hernández Chavarría for Camino Travel.
Emilio is a young writer for Camino Travel. However, and even if he is almost 12, he has already traveled around the World and extensively throughout Costa Rica and has developed a criterion that mixes his local knowledge and the perceptions of a family boy in his trips, creating articles that will be helpful for anyone traveling with kids and teens.