Costa Rica’s most important holidays and traditions.

December 4, 2015

Screen Shot 2015-12-04 at 10.08.34 AMVirgen de los Angeles

August 2nd

Every year, masses of Costa Ricans (Ticos) observe this holiday by walking from their homes to one specific church no matter how far away they live, paying respects to the patron saint of Costa Rica, Virgen de los Angeles. Legend has it that in 1636, The Virgen of Angels appeared to a little girl from Cartago, Costa Rica. The vision actually appeared to her many times in the form of a small stone statue, asking the girl to build a church on the exact spot it was appearing. So the people of Cartago did just that and to their delight, miracles started happening there regularly. The actual stone statue was discovered on August 2, 1940, so that date was set to honor the saint and the sacred church.


December 25

Christmas is a huge deal in Costa Rica as well, though the traditions are far different than how we do them in the United States. It starts earlier in December and revolves around a model of the nativity scene called the Pasito or Portal, but this one decorated with tropical flowers, model houses and animals, and sometimes even fruit. Christmas lights adorn a lot of homes and establishments and wreaths are made of cypress branches and are dressed up with red ribbons and red coffee berries. Apples are popular leading up to Christmas time.

Instead of Santa Claus, the gift bringer in Costa Rica is Jesus, or ‘Niño dios’ (Child God), who brings the presents while children are sleeping. Neighbors and friends get together to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem, pray the Rosary, and drink plenty of eggnog while eating tamales. There is a traditional family dinner and then at midnight on the 25th, most Ticos attend the Misa de Gallo or Christmas Mass – literally translated “The Mass of the Rooster.”

Semana Santa

Easter week

Since Costa Rica is a Catholic country, Easter is a really big deal – celebrated far more fervently than in the United States. Ticos celebrate all week at church, at family gatherings, and also slipping out to the beach for some sun and fun.

The week kicks off at the church with “Domingo de Ramos,” an important ritual where the priest gives everyone in attendance a blessed palm leaf, in rememberance of the day Jesus walking in Jerusalem and was greeted with palm leaves. Starting Thursday that week, all businesses are closed and Ticos start their exodus to the beach to party hard. They usually find a way to make it to church that Sunday, where a big celebration ensues to honor the resurrection of Jesus three days after he was crucified. From a practical standpoint, don’t expect any work to get done that whole week in government or private offices, and beach towns like Tamarindo and Jaco will be overrun with Ticos so make sure you have a hotel room booked.

The Fiestas

December and January are festive months in Costa Rica, with each city, town, and village, no matter how big or small, having their own fiesta. Usually on the weekends, the celebrations take on a fairground atmosphere, with parades, dancing, food, plenty of drink, rides, games, and singing. But the main attraction is usually the bull fights – thought he bulls aren’t harmed in Costa Rica. Each town may do them a little differently, but you could literally book your dance card for those two months following around fiestas – and having a blast!

Day of the Culture Encounter, or Discovery of America


Christopher Columbus may be less popular every year in the United States, but his holiday is still celebrated widely in Costa Rica. In mid October, the Ticos commemorate his arrival in 1502 to Uvita, an island off the Caribbean port town of Limon. The celebration goes on for almost a whole week, with the local residents and visitors filling the streets with color, music, dancing, beauty pageants, and plenty of “Rondon” a local fish stew. The festivities turn into a full-on carnival like atmosphere with plenty of reggae, roots, calypso, salsa, and socca music.

Columbus’s arrival is celebrated a little more tamely in the rest of Costa Rica, with school children dressing up as different historical figures, like indigenous people or Columbus himself.

New Year’s Eve and Day

Celebrating the start of the New Year is a holiday worldwide, but Ticos kick it off with special vigor, heading to the beach en droves to drink and dance on the beach until the sun comes up. Some people light paper lanterns and set them adrift over the beach to say goodbye to the old and bring in the new, while those in the city will gather in the public squares, like in San José’s Parque Central and Buenos Aires, and Puntarenas to keep the party going with their friends. New Year’s Day is a little tamer as everyone has a hangover, or “Goma” so it’s usually spent celebrating with families.

Independence Day

September 15

Costa Rica gained their sovereignty from Spain on the same day as the rest of Central America in 1821, and the nation still commemorates their independence. The display of national pride kicks off with parades, traditional dancing and costumes, street parties, children carrying small lanterns through the street, and plenty of face painting. It all builds up to the arrival of the Freedom Torch in Cartago, when everyone in the country stops and simultaneously sings the national anthem.


October 31

The spooky holiday of October 31 is still pretty new to Costa Rica, but they were smart enough to adopt a good party when they see it. Of course the little kids love dressing up and being walked around town by their parents for candy, but the teens and adults really live it up, planning their costumes for weeks and going all out in a bacchanalian celebration that is definitely photo worthy.

Fiesta a de los Diablitos

December 30

Literally translated as “The festival of the little devils,” at midnight on December 30, the southern ethnic group of Borucas awake wearing devil masks, recreating a fight to the death between the Indians (Diablitos) and invading Spaniards. These days, the Spanish are represented by a bull and the Diablitos wear plenty of traditional costumes, fireworks, and native customs.

Día de los Muertos

November 2

Día de los Muertos, also called Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day) or Día de Todos Almas (All Souls Day), is observed all over Costa Rica, as residents attend Catholic mass and make pilgrimages to graveyards to honor their deceased family members.

Boxing Day

December 26

Not everyone celebrates Boxing Day (or it is hard to tell when the Christmas celebration ends and the Boxing Day party begins), but there is a popular horseback parade called the Tope.


December 27

In many parts of the country, particularly on the Caribbean eastern shores, they celebrate Carnaval on the 27th with parades, floats, music, and dancing.

Costa Rican football

Any time they play!

It’s a grand holiday anytime the most popular teams like Soprissa or Alajuelense are playing, and definitely when the Costa Rican national team takes the field there is reason to run to the nearest bar or television set and cheer on the home team.



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