Semana Santa, or Easter Holy Week, is something that should not be missed in any Latin American country. Costa Rica, being the Catholic nation that is, is no exception. This is a great time to see some of the rich culture of the area as each province and town holds dramatic religious processions and services recreating the last days of Jesus’ life.
Considered the most important holiday in the Catholic calendar, Easter in Costa Rica is a time for religious traditions as families gather to share their faith and time together. Many of the Nicaraguan living in Costa Rica travel north to be with their family back home, and people from the city go to visit their extended family in the country.
Most Costa Ricans go home to celebrate their town’s patron saint with bullfights, rodeos, dancing, parades and fireworks, while nearly a million Costa Ricans decide to take advantage of their time off work to head to the coast. In fact, the entire city of San Jose is usually dead as everyone leaves to the beach or to be with family.
Those who do decide to stay may choose to attend two of the most important processions where the journey of Jesus to where he is crucified on the cross is depicted in a dramatization with live human actors, instead of the effigy of Christ that is generally held at the front of a procession. One of the most dramatic ones is in Tres Rios, in Cartago. Teletica broadcasts another one in San Joaquin de Flores in Heredia. The processions come complete with Roman [actors] performing flagullation, and a representation of every person that was at the scene of Christ’s death. Many people come to line the streets and watch, while in smaller towns, you can join the procession and pick up snacks from street vendors along the way.
Liquor, however, is not for sale starting midnight on Ash Wednesday (which falls on March 19 this year) through midnight on Good Friday (March 21). Don’t feel like an alcoholic if you immediately consider stocking up in advance – the whole country does it! Some bars can still be found selling alcohol illegally, which is more common in touristy beach destinations, so don’t fear too much.
What you won’t find lacking is seafood and seafood advertisements, which is sold in bulk days before Easter, as many religious followers do not eat meat on Good Friday or throughout the week. Chicha, a hot drink made from aguadulce, ginger and cinnamon (other combinations exist) which burns as it goes down, is traditionally drunk around Easter time in many regions.
Another tradition that is thankfully on its way out is the belief that driving a vehicle during holy week is a sin. In some small towns, it is said that people still leave nails in the street to deter anyone who decides to try it. Religious families also warn their children that if they go to the beach or the river on Thursday or Friday of Holy Week, they will turn into fish.
Most Ticos get off for at least Thursday and Friday before Easter, while some take the entire week off. Banks and businesses will also be closed Thursday and Friday, and public transportation is limited. Visitors are recommended to make transportation reservations in advance, or to purchase a vacation package in which all transportation is arranged for you. The hotels will also be packed, so again, making reservations in advance must be stressed.