September 15th: Celebrating Independence Day in Costa Rica

Sit back and we’ll tell you a story. It goes like this:

Nearly 200 years ago, on a dark September night, a Guatemalan woman named María Dolores Bedoya called her compatriots to a rally for independence. To light her way, she carried only a lantern.

The day was September 14, 1821, and Central America was on the brink of freedom – a peaceful freedom – from Spain. Legislators had cloistered themselves in the city of Antigua, to debate the fate of the Spanish colonies in the New World.

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In the early morning of September 15th, the legislators emerged from their discussions. The lantern-wielding crowd, which had gathered peacefully in the plaza all night, cheered.

“¡Viva la patria! ¡Viva la libertad!” (“Long live the mother country! Long live liberty!”)

The act of independence had been signed: Central America was a free nation.

Independence Day, circa 1821

Of course, news did not move swiftly in 1800s-era Central America. Costa Rica did not learn of its independence for six weeks, when a letter with the news finally reached the city of Cartago on October 29.

The road to total independence would take years. First, Central America would cobble together a centralized government. Declarations would be made. There would be squabbles over boundaries. Nicaragua and Costa Rica would both vie for Guanacaste. But eventually, the Central American government would dissolve peacefully into separate nations. Costa Rica (and Guanacaste) would be one of them.

September 15th would forever be celebrated as Independence Day throughout Central America, from Guatemala south into Costa Rica.

Independence Day, Today

Costa Ricans are fiercely proud of their country and heritage, so it comes as no surprise that September is known as “el mes de la patria,” “the month of the homeland.” For an entire month, Costa Rica is decked out in red, white and blue – in flags and shields, banners and lanterns.

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Oh yes, the lanterns.

Harkening back to that dark evening in 1821, lanterns are an important element in Costa Rica’s Independence Day celebrations. Every year, schoolchildren create elaborate, often patriotic lanterns – traditional homes, orchid flowers, and painted boxes, galore – to parade through the streets. On September 14th, they dress in traditional garb and gather at schools around the nation.

At precisely 6 p.m., Costa Rica’s national anthem is broadcast via national radio and TV. Costa Ricans join in to sing. Then, the parades begin, with each child carrying his or her own version of the “freedom torch.” Parents and neighbors trail behind them.

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September 15th, Independence Day, is a national holiday. Almost everyone has the day off, and for good reason: parades! Early in the morning, usually around 8 p.m., every town in Costa Rica hosts a parade. School children gather, again in traditional dress. School marching bands play. Dance groups twirl. Cheerleaders cheer.

Colorful, loud and vibrant processions follow. Costa Ricans, young and old, traipse the parade route, cheering on their local schools and kids. They dance in the streets. They savor traditional foods, like arroz con pollo, fried plantains, and pinchos (kebabs), often for sale in the town’s central park.

Festivities wane by afternoon, when September rains often fall. Everyone goes home to enjoy the rest of their day off.

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Next year, celebrate Costa Rican independence the way it’s meant to be celebrated: here in Costa Rica, surrounded by celebration!

Learn what it means to be Costa Rican. Learn what it means to live in paradise. We invite you to see for yourself, on an incredible Discovery Tour: 4 glorious days and 3 relaxing nights of Guanacaste life and the pura vida lifestyle, of friendly smiles and your very own infinity pool. Call (800) 219-0310 to book your free Discovery Tour today or click here to learn more.