This year, Costa Rica is celebrating the 195th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence from Spain, which happened on the 15th of September 1821. Costa Rica was conquered by Spain in 1524 and became part of the Captaincy General (or Kingdom) of Guatemala.  All territories of the Kingdom of Guatemala declared independence from Spain on the 15th of September, 1821, and as such, this day is celebrated in Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala as Independence Day.

Beginning in the morning of the 14th, torches are run across the country originating in the capital of each canton (province).  School children are given the day off of regular classes to run this relay of fire, ending sunset with a night parade of faroles (lanterns) lit by the torches. Every community of Costa Rica will be celebrating independence with a night of music and dancing, illuminated by individually created lanterns.  The official festivities are kicked off with the lighting of the Torch of Freedom in Guanacaste.  This torch travels to San Jose before heading to Cartago, Costa Rica’s original capital.

The tradition of lanterns stems from a Guatemalan woman named Dolores Bedoya, who in 1821 went door to door with nothing but a lantern to invite families to celebrate the territories of Central America becoming independent nations. Costa Rican faroles are typically made from any recycled household items such as plastic containers and are elaborately decorated with patriotic symbols or any individual artistic inspiration.  These often fantastic creations are then lit by tea lights or small LEDs (the safer, recommended alternative).  Music, dancing and contests for best faroles are characteristic of the celebrations within each community.

On the morning of the 15th, the reenactment of Costa Rican’s celebrating independence for the first time in 1821 is called the ‘Diana’ and takes place at dawn.  The people of Costa Rica reenact their awakening that morning with drums and any means of making noise in celebration of liberation from Spanish rule.  School bands will march in the streets of each community throughout the morning.  This day is regarded as a national holiday, meaning that no one is required to work in Costa Rica and simple wages for the holiday are included in employee contracts.  Those who do decide to work are often paid double or triple their typical wages.

It would be hard to miss your local parade due to the sounds of celebration and the streets being filled with the festivities, which include dance groups, marching bands and displays from community organizations, all accompanied by the sounds of cumbia music and the national anthem.  The festivities generally kick off around 9am before the afternoon rain that is typical of this season begins.

After the parade, the people of the community join together with family and friends for traditional Costa Rican cuisine that features tamales, empanadas and casados.

Ojochal’s lantern festival and Independence Day parade will both happen in the area between Escuela Tortuga and Jucaloa and will have performances from the school’s marching band, local community dance groups and food stalls from local proprietors.