Traditions Persist in Costa Rica’s Independence Day Anniversary

One of the year’s most important holidays, Costa Rica celebrates its 196th Independence Day anniversary this Friday September 15th. Festivities begin traditionally on September 14th, when the Torch of Freedom arrives in Cartago. The   torch represents Central America’s freedom  from colonial Spain. Every year, it makes the journey south  from Guatemala through five nations, arriving in Costa Rica on the eve of Independence day. Costa Ricans then stand to sing the national anthem. Only Belize and Panama do not participate as both these countries achieved their independence by other means.

The Costa Rica Team

Independence Day parades will be held in towns throughout the nation tomorrow. Photo: Albert Font

Declaration of Independence

In 1502, Christopher Columbus landed on Costa Rican soil, claiming the so-called “rich coast” for the Spanish. Throughout the colonial period, Costa Rica was the southernmost province in the Captaincy General of Guatemala, the Central American arm of the Spanish government. On September 15, 1821, after a final Mexican victory in the Mexican War of Independence, Guatemala also declared independence on behalf of Central America. Spain accepted the declaration without a fight. In October 1821, the Independence Act arrived in Cartago to notify Costa Rica of its sudden freedom.

Homemade lantern or “farole” Photo. Alberto Font

March of the Lanterns

The March of the Lanterns or faroles is a tradition that is special for the Tico children. The tradition is based on the factual accounts of Dolores Bedoya. In 1821, she set foot in Guatemala at evening carrying nothing but a lantern and a message. Going door-to-door, Dolores invited families to come celebrate that the territories of Central America were now each independent nations. She also led her neighbors in patriotic songs, which is why the National Anthem is sung at 6:00 pm on September 14th. 

Costa Rican faroles are often made out of recycled household products decorated elaborately with patriotic symbols or whatever else interests the young artist. Often this parade is filled with music, dancing and even contests for the best designed farole. While traditionally votive candles were used in the past, LED lights are used. 

School children prepare months ahead of time for the annual Independence Day parades. Photo: Alberto Font

Independence Day Parades

The most popular Independence Day tradition is street parades, held on September 15th in every town around the country. School children practice for several months to coordinate their marching bands, color guards and folkloric dancing. Girls wear traditional  flowing skirts n red, white and blue while the boys dress campesino style. These parades usually start early on Friday morning, drawing residents and tourists to line the streets as spectators.

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Members of The Costa Rica Team plan to watch the parade. Karen Mejias recalls marching in the parades as a child as a member of her school’s band in Heredia. She played the lira in third through fifth grades for the traditional desfile. Her national pride shines when she finds the National Anthem “Himno Patriòtica” on her computer. The resounding lyrics fill the room:

“Los hijos del pueblo, levanten el frente al sol refulgente de libertad. Sepamos ser libres no siervos menguados, derechos sagrados la Patria nos da”

“Sons of the village, Lift up your brow towards the shining sun of freedom. Know that you are free no longer oppressed. The homeland gives all of us these sacred rights. “