Muchas Fiestas for Costa Rica Retirees

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    With Halloween behind us and the December holidays and New Year’s festivities just ahead, it seems like a good time to talk about días feriados (national holidays) here in Costa Rica. For retirees who decide to move to this tropical Central American country, there may be a concern that you are leaving all those familiar celebrations behind. Fear not! For the Holiday Spirit will be with you!

    Costa Rican society enjoys a vast array of holidays and the expat community has helped to import a few more, such as traditional Halloween festivities of dressing up in costumes, carving pumpkins and partying. Here in Atenas, the center of activity for the last few years has been Kay’s Gringo Postre, a popular hangout for expats, which hosts a Halloween dance with DJ music and a costume contest. This year the well-deserved win went to our friends Patricia and Kevin, dressed up in elaborate “Psycho” garb, complete with a PVC pipe and tinsel “shower” atop Patricia’s head, “blood” dripping down her shoulders. Kevin completed the scene dressed as the psychotic Anthony Perkins in dowdy dress and gray wig, totting a big gory knife. It was hilarious!

    Although Ticos generally don’t celebrate All Hallows’ Eve, their own fall tradition begins the next day with All Saint’s Day, followed on November 2nd by Dia de Los Muertos or Day of the Dead. Much like the Celtic harvest festival Samhain, the precursor of Halloween, the Day of the Dead is all about honoring one’s deceased relatives when families take bouquets of flowers to the graves of loved ones.

    Being a Catholic country, many of Costa Rica’s holidays are religious in nature, the biggest by far being Semana Santa, or Holy Week just before Easter. Then the entire nation virtually shuts down with businesses, banks and government offices closed at least on Thursday and Good Friday of that week. Buses, if they run at all, are on a very limited schedule and since much of the Tico population heads to the beaches, traffic becomes more of a nightmare than usual. Expats learn to stock up on food and drink and hunker down at home.

    December is also a big month of fiestas, starting with the Festival de La Luz, a week of parades featuring brightly lit floats, lighting displays, concerts and fireworks. Also early in December, Tico Christmas celebrations begin, starting with the traditional preparation of tamales that are then offered as gifts. The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary and the Fiesta de los Negritos are observed on December 8th with indigenous fairs, bullfights (Tico-style, without the blood) and religious rituals. Christmas Eve finds many of the faithful at mass, followed by a family Christmas dinner at midnight. The day after Christmas offers Tope Caballos, a huge horse parade through downtown San Jose to honor the beautiful Costa Rican Criollo breed of horses. The New Year is welcomed in with a big dance in the Parque Central in San Jose and in smaller celebrations throughout the country.

    Costa Rica has some of the same holidays as the United States but they are celebrated on different days here: May 1st is Labor Day in Costa Rica; Independence Day, when Costa Rica won independence from Spain, is September 15th; Dia de las Madres is observed August 15th with elaborate dinner dances honoring mothers. There is even a Dia de Los Niños or Children’s Day on September 9th.

    Many of the country’s historical events are commemorated with holidays in Costa Rica as well. For instance, Juan Santamaria Day honors the heroism of a young man who fought and died at the battle of Rivas in 1856 against William Walker, an American who tried to conquer and enslave Costa Rica. Guanacaste Day on July 25th marks the annexation of the northwestern Guanacaste region from Nicaragua in 1824. Here in Atenas, which boasts “the best climate in the world,” the annual climate fair in April offers an opportunity to celebrate the city’s history of being along the path taken by early oxcarts carrying coffee to the coast. The Oxcart Parade that weekend is a beautiful display of the colorful hand-painted carts and the noble beasts that pull them.

    In addition to national holidays, most cities and towns have their own patron saint and each community sets aside a day to honor their favored religious icon, usually with processions, bullfights, rodeos and dancing. Costa Rica’s national patron saint is the Virgin of Los Angeles, also called La Negrita or the black virgin. On August 2nd each year, thousands of Ticos travel for miles from all over the country by car, on horseback, on foot or even crawling on their knees to La Basillica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, a spectacular edifice in the city of Cartago, to prove their devotion and in hopes of a miracle from La Negrita, the Black Madonna, reputed to have great healing powers.

    With the sizable expat community in Costa Rica, many other North American holidays get attention here. Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Thanksgiving and even Valentine’s Day have events organized by Gringos to commemorate the various holidays. Columbus Day is celebrated in Costa Rica to mark the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new world and features several days of Carnival on the Caribbean coast where he landed.

    In other words, you will not be lacking in holidays to celebrate when you choose Costa Rica for retirement. In fact, you may find yourself busier than ever as you get ready to enjoy each of these festive events.

    by Kat Sunlove for

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