Independence Day in Costa Rica

Exploring the traditions and reasons behind Costa Rica's National Day of Independence.

Figure 1: Map of Costa Rica. (



       The national day of independence for Costa Rica is effective in molding the generally homogeneous population's memories and dispositions. The celebration draws people into a sense of national pride by displaying traditional, recognizable elements of Costa Rican culture. Having children act as the main participants in the celebration, fond memories of the celebration are commonplace among the population, and because of this, the celebration continues its popularity. Immediately after independence is achieved, a nation begins to create its own history, ideals, and culture, which are tactically refined by the elite ruling class in attempts to unify the nation of people. Unification lightens the lines dividing social classes and restores confidence in the national government.



Figure 2: Girls dressed in colorful skirts walk in the parade. ( Figure 3: People gather for a parade on the street. (


      Costa Rica gained its independence from Spain on September fifteenth, 1821. The festivities of the celebration of independence recognize national heroes, culture, and ideals. By having school children as the main participants in the festivities, the celebration instills its values in Costa Rica 's children, which are its future. The celebration unites the nation's people, known as Ticos, under a common history and towards a common future (Fisher 1999). Beyond simply serving as a joyous celebration, the independence day of Costa Rica is a national holiday intended to influence the opinions and habits of the Ticos.


Context of Costa Rica

      Costa Rica lies next to Nicaragua , Panama , the Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean. Being home to a mild subtropical climate, beaches, rain forests, active volcanoes, and four mountain ranges, Costa Rica has become a popular tourist location, and the government has set out to preserve much of its biodiversity. Displaying the characteristics of a subtropical climate, Costa Rica has a rainy season from May through November, frequent hurricanes, and temperatures ranging from seventy to ninety degrees Fahrenheit (Morrison 1997).

        Columbus was the first explorer to make his way to Costa Rica in 1502, and what he found was a relatively small population consisting of four main tribes: the Caribs, the Borucas, the Chibchas, and the Diquis, which were difficult to conquer. Despite its beauty, the Spanish colony was an unpopular place to settle, and it suffered from the lack of indigenous people to put to work, which forced the settlers to do most of the labor themselves. The brutal nature of the Spanish settlers towards the Indians heavily decreased the Indian population. Disease added to the harsh conditions, and the colony was neglected because of its perceived lack of potential to produce a significant output. Along with other nations in its region, Costa Rica took advantage of a vulnerable Spain and gained independence in 1821. Many of the remaining Indians converted to Christianity and became a part of the “mestizo” population by intermarriage. There were some blacks that immigrated to Costa Rica from Jamaica , but not as slaves. Therefore, the population of Costa Rica was and still is relatively homogeneous (Foley 1997). Costa Rica is not known for the brutal authority that many other nations in Central America experienced. It highly values education, peaceful tactics, and Catholicism. Today it exists as a democratic republic where all people are seen as equals under the law ( ).


Origins of Costa Rica's Independence Day

        Costa Rica received its name, “rich coast,” from Spaniard Gil Gonzalez Davila who noticed the gold hoops worn in the ears and noses of the tribal people ( ). The national Independence Day has been celebrated since independence was achieved and the nation has been functioning as an autonomous nation-state. The traditions of the celebration have grown with time. Independence , a popular cause of celebration, presents a nation with only a starting point to begin building upon. Brian Hamnett states, (1977: 279) “Nationalism did not make independent states; nation and national identity would have to be created after independence.” Therefore, the celebration has been intentionally and unintentionally refined over the years.



      At six o' clock on the eve of the Independence Day, all the Ticos stop what they are doing and sing the national anthem; then later that evening the children carry handmade lanterns through the streets in small processions (see figure 4). In preparation for September fifteenth, school children perform traditional dances, visit historical sites, and put on plays (Fisher 1999). A torch of freedom, carried from Guatemala to Costa Rica in a relay race, reaches Costa Rica on the fifteenth and is carried by school children with high grades or athletic talent (A.M. Costa Rica Staff). Since many countries in the region acquired independence at relatively the same time, the celebration of independence spans the region. On September fifteenth, businesses close, people line the street for parades, listen to speeches, dress in decorative clothing, participate in and watch sporting events, and enjoy a day of leisure in order to honor of the nation's independence (Brattemark).




Figure 4. A little boy displays his colorful lantern (A.M. Costa Rica 9/15/04).




Prognosis for Costa Rica's Independence Day

        Being a national holiday, Costa Rica 's Independence Day gains support from the majority the nation's inhabitants, who form a relatively homogeneous population. Costa Rica is home to 3.96 million people and has an expected population growth rate of 1.52% for the year 2004. As long as the population size is increasing, the number of people affected by and supporting the celebration is increasing. A constitution granting free elections and universal suffrage that was drafted in 1949 encompasses pride and enthusiasm under a relatively new national government (U.S. Department of State 2004). The celebration is increasing in popularity due to the youthful spirit of the nation and the increasing population.



        A celebration of independence does not simply honor the birth of an autonomous nation; it congratulates a nation on its history, its government, and its people. Through the repeated traditions of a national celebration, the people are unified socially and politically. However, this unification is no coincidence. It is part of a deliberate strategy. Unification within a single nation-state promotes support for the national government, relieves social pressures, and influences the youth. The celebration is essentially a tool used to sway the people in favor of the nation. The joy of the celebration lives in people's memories and causes them to continually support the celebration. Transforming throughout time, the celebration fluctuates, but the traditions and ultimate purpose of the celebration remain the same. An annual national celebration is a steady reminder of national pride that would not be as easily communicated without the presence of the celebration.


Internet References Cited

  • A.M Costa Rica Staff

      2004 Torch of Liberty Arrives Here from Guatemala , September 14, 2004. Website: .

      This website is a daily news source for Costa Rica with articles in English.

    A.M. Costa Rica Staff

      Independence marches all over the country! September 15, 2004.

      Website: .

      This website is a daily news source for Costa Rica with articles in English.

  • Brattemark, Magda

    2004 Independence celebrations in Central America . Electronic document, .

      This website is provides information on what to expect for people interested in traveling to Costa Rica .

  • Caron, Bruce. 2003. Community, Democracy and Performance: The Urban Practice of Kyoto 's Higashi-Kujo Madang. Santa Barbara : The New Media Studio.

       This website is from a news source in East Asia where articles of opinion can be found.

  • 1-Costa Rica Link. . Accessed September 15, 2004.

      This website is basically about Costa Rica for those interested in it or traveling there with colorful images.

  • Costa Rica Travel . Accessed September 15, 2004.

      This website is another traveling service, which provided a nice map.

  • Geographia. . Accessed September 15, 2004.

      This website describes the history, climate, and background information on Costa Rica .

  • U.S. Department of State

    2004 Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs. Electronic document, , accessed November 5, 2004.

    This website gives an recent profile of Costa Rica .


Peer-Reviewed References Cited

  • Dorson, Richard M.

    1982 Material Components in Celebration . In Celebration: Studies Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 33-57. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.

  • Duncan, R. (1998). Embracing a suitable past: independence celebrations under Mexico 's second empire, 1864-6. Journal of Latin American Studies, 30(2), 349-277.

  • Fisher, Frederick.

      1999 Festivals of the World: Costa Rica . Singapore : Times Editions Pte Ltd.

  • Foley, Erin.

      1997 Cultures of the World: Costa Rica . Singapore : Times Editions Pte Ltd.

  • Hamnett, B. (1997). Process and pattern: a re-examination of the Ibero-American independence movements, 1808-1826. Journal of Latin American Studies, 29(2), 279-328.

  • Morrison, Marion .

      1998 Costa Rica : Enchantment of the World. New York : Children's Press.

  • Turner, Victor, and Edith Turner

    1982 Religious Celebrations . In Celebration: Studies in Festivity and Ritual . Victor Turner, ed, pp. 201-219. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington.


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