Celebrating Semana Santa in Costa Rica
Like many Central and South American countries, Costa Rica’s population is heavily Catholic. To Catholics, Easter is a very important holiday. The entire week leading up to Easter is called Semana Santa, or Holy Week, and it is observed with religious processions and dramatic recreations of the last days of the life of Christ, all of which are worth seeing.
Semana Santa is a joyous time of celebration in Costa Rica, but in this family-oriented culture, it’s also a time to head home or to the beach for a little RnR. Many Costa Ricans in larger cities go to their hometown to be with loved ones and honor their town’s patron saint, while others simply take advantage of the time off from work to get out of town. In fact, during Semana Santa, the streets of San Jose are uncharacteristically empty and quiet.
While many of the traditional masses and processions held in cities and towns throughout the week are meant to encourage deep reflection and devotion, Semana Santa is not all somber and serious. Most towns celebrate the seasons raucously with fireworks, parades, dancing and even bullfights.
Some of the hallmarks of Semana Santa – and some of the most amazing things to see – are the beautiful dramatizations of Jesus’s crucifixion. In cities and towns across the country, live actors to faithfully depict his journey to the cross, right down to Roman soldiers in full costume. Meanwhile faithful spectators line the streets to mourn and pray.
Many of Costa Rica’s faithful don’t eat meat during Semana Santa. If you love fresh seafood, however, this is a fantastic week to visit Costa Rica, as fish and shellfish are available in abundance. It’s also important to note that there is no liquor sold in Costa Rica (legally anyway) between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, during Jesus’s mourning. In fact, all of the bars close at midnight on Ash Wednesday.
Central and South Americans take their holidays seriously – while many people take Thursday and Friday off, don’t be surprised if you find many businesses closed for the entire week.
Semana Santa is a wonderful time to visit Costa Rica, as you get to truly immerse yourself in the culture and enjoy a reverent celebration. However, if you plan to head down next Easter, be sure to plan your trip carefully and book ahead – hotels fill up very quickly.