Independence Day Parades in Costa Rica
September is arguably the most festive month of the year in Costa Rica. Why? Because September 15 is the day that the Ticos, as Costa Ricans are commonly called, celebrate their independence. This year marks 195 years of independence in Costa Rica and all of Latin America. This country may be small but Ticos have big hearts and are fiercely proud of their country, of being Costa Rican, and of being a free people.
The atmosphere is charged starting at the beginning of September as you begin to see more Costa Rican flags proudly flying, school kids start getting ready for celebrations and practice singing patriotic songs, and you hear bands performing impromptu concerts in the common areas as they practice for the big day. If you pass through a neighborhood you’ll also probably hear some kid fervently beating their drum as they dutifully practice their part. The highlight of the Costa Rican celebration is the grand Independence Day parade. Flag brigades, bands, dancers and school groups begin preparing weeks in advance to show off their art and their Costa Rican pride on the 15th of September.
The festivities actually begin the night before with the parade of the faroles, or lanterns. The idea is that since back in the day they didn’t have handy dandy flashlights (or cell phone lanterns) people ventured out into the night with handheld lanterns to rally for the cause of independence, and to celebrate the day the news of independence arrived.
To commemorate this, every year communities across Costa Rica take to the streets with their kids to light up their faroles and parade through the center of town. While nowadays most people buy beautifully made faroles with LED lights inside, in the past faroles were often made with whatever plastic bottles and bits of colorful construction paper that kids could find and place a candle inside. But, rest assured, whatever material your farol is made out of you will be welcome to join the parade!
The next morning dawns with anticipation of the big event. People begin gathering at the schools early in the morning until eventually converging in town in preparation for the grand parade. The air is charged with excitement and everywhere you look you see people dressed in festive red, white and blue–the colors of the Costa Rican flag. Of course, the little kids are the most adorable and you will see scores of them in traditional style outfits as each mother attempts to outdo the rest with her child’s independence day outfit.
The streets are already crowded early and people are vying for the best vantage point. Cell phones and cameras are out by the scores as everyone is looking to catch the perfect shot of their friend or family member as they parade by. Finally, the big event begins and the swarming mass of paraders begins to spread out as they start their stately march through town. Be prepared for the onslaught of adorable little kids in colorful parade outfits, talented dancers and musicians, and proud bodies of public service workers showing off their Tico pride.
This year in Quepos the parade started with the town’s firefighters rolling by with their shiny red fire engine. The department is made up of both paid and volunteer firefighters that are committed to the town’s safety.
A guest group from Panama honored Quepos this year by coming to celebrate with us. A group made up of both adults and children, they came with beautiful traditional Panamanian outfits to add to the festivities. If you didn’t get a chance to see them perform their traditional dance at least check out the photos of their colorful clothes!
A large part of the parade is made up of school groups. Kids have the chance to march or perform in various ways. The luckiest kids got to ride in a decorated truck tossing candy at the crowd, waving at their friends and, of course, posing for photos. Other groups of preschoolers marched holding signs that promote values like forgiveness and friendship, or wear fun hats of different animals to promote environmental awareness.
Kids that are a bit older have the opportunity to play in a band. Costa Rican school bands are comprised of just a few simple instruments. There is generally a drum section with varying sizes and types of drums accompanied by the lira, basically a handheld xylophone, that provides the melody. Also commonly seen is the güiro, a bumpy metal cylindrical instrument that produces sound by scraping a stick along its side. Simple but fun!
Other groups that we saw this year were drill teams performing and showing off their pride with Costa Rican flags, a dance group wearing colorful outfits and twirling batons, and folks dressed in boldy patriotic traditional outfits and performing old time dances.
Whether or not you’ve seen it before the Independence Day celebrations in Costa Rica are so exciting and fun that you will want to participate year after year. If you’ve never had the opportunity to see one, I highly recommend that you start making plans to come and be a part of the celebration next year! You will never regret planning a vacation to this magical country and taking the opportunity to explore not only her beautiful natural wonders and but also the rich cultural heritage of the friendly Costa Rican people.
Guest dance troupe from Panama helped us celebrate this year.
Click to see photos from last year’s Independence Day in Costa Rica.