Drawing from diverse influences, Costa Rican’s rich culture mixes the Catholic religion, customs from places as diverse as Spain, Africa and Asia, along with the traditions of indigenous Costa Rican tribes . Some of the most important Costa Rican traditions are the following:
The legend holds that in 1636 The Virgin of Angels appeared to a girl from Cartago many times as a small stone statue. The Virgin asked the girl to build a church in her honor in the spot where she kept finding the statue. The people did so and many miracles started happening. Presumably the stone statue was found the 2nd of August in 1940. Celebrating this date with great joy every year, people walk from their homes to this church, no matter how far they live, to pay respects to the patron saint of Costa Rica.
Through-out the entire “semana santa” there are church celebrations and family parties. The first activity in church is the “Domingo de Ramos” where the priest gives everyone a blessed palm leaf, which is reminiscent of the day Jesus walked into Jerusalem and people greeted him with palm leaves. The following Sunday is the last celebration of the resurrection of Jesus, three days after he was crucified. Thursday all businesses are closed and people start to party at the beach, but attend church on Sunday when they get back home.
The most important Christmas tree in Costa Rica is the tree of the Children’s National Hospital. People arrive there the first day they light up the tree to be with the sick children. This brings hope to the sick children and makes them happy in spite of their situation. A very popular part of Christmas is El Portal, a miniature scene of Jesus being born in the stall made out of figurines and decorations. Most people put it up in early December and keep it until January, but the little Jesus is not to be placed in the scene until midnight on December 24th. That's also when the adults open their gifts. The children are told that the Baby Jesus brings their gifts while they are sleeping. To remove El Portal, a group of neighbors get together at a different person’s house each day to act out the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem. They pray the Rosary and drink Rompope (eggnog) with all kinds of snacks including, of course, tamales – a traditional plate made out of maiz, potatoes, meat, rice and paprika. The Misa de Gallo, Christmas Mass, takes place at midnight on December twenty-fifth. On this night many families enjoy their traditional Christmas dinner.
Every year in mid-October the Costa Rican population celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus, who arrived in 1502 to Uvita, an island about 1 km from the port of Limon. For nearly a week the city of Limon fills with people, color and music. In the streets you can find concerts, beauty contests, parades and huge pots of hot “Rondon” (fishstew/fishmulligan). This celebration’s highlight is the “Gran Desfile” where different colorfully costumed dancing groups along with acrobats are featured in the streets, and are evaluated by a jury. There are many drinks and dances; the whole city moves to reggae, roots, calypso, salsa and socca rhythms. The carnival is a very afro-Caribbean event, but occasionally there are also indigenous groups who warn against Columbus with fight-dances. In the rest of Costa Rica this event is celebrated by the schoolchildren, who dress up as diverse figures, such as indigenous people or Columbus.
On the 30th of December at midnight Borucas awake with grim devilmasks. This ethnic festival of the native people of the south of the country recreates a fight to the death between the Indians (Diablitos) and the invading Spaniards. The tradition goes back to colonial times and has been passed down from generation to generation. It is a great display of native traditions, customs, and beliefs. The battle is stylized with masked and costumed "Diablitos" taking on a bull, which represents the Spanish. Amid much ceremony and play-acting, accompanied by flutes, drums, guitars, violins and accordions, the bull eventually meets a gory end in the center of the village. The meat is offered for sale and there are craft stalls and fireworks to add to the festive occasion. “Chicha”, a fermented beverage derived from maize, is the favored drink during the party.