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Halloween in Costa Rica

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Día de la Mascarada is Our Version of  Halloween in Costa Rica


halloweenThough Halloween is becoming increasingly popular in Costa Rica, October 31st is traditionally celebrated as Día de la Mascarada, or Day of the Masquerade. While more and more expats are making their home in the country and Halloween is continuing to become a more mainstream holiday, Día de la Mascarada celebrations take the festivity forefront.

With roots in the Spanish Carnival, Día de la Mascarada is known for its parades featuring large, masked characters, music, clowns, and dancing. While the Spaniards brought the costumed celebration to Costa Rica, it wasn’t an official holiday until 1996, when the Ministry of Culture established Día de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense as an annual parade.

The masks are created in the visage of famous characters, political figures, and national heroes, and are made using a papier-mâché like process. “The bigger the better” is the goal when it comes to the giant masks, or “masquerades.” One of the most striking types of masks seen, these large masks are mounted on bamboo or wire, often engulfing the wearer’s entire body. You’ll likely see represented the Devil, Death, the Witch, and even La Llorona, a terrifying local legend.

In addition to the parades, Costa Rican culture is celebrated during the national festivities, with educational activities, the procession and display of masks, and tributes to leading mask makers. You’ll also find food, fireworks, and many chances to listen to local music, both traditional folk and current.

Masked participants will parade down the street in most major cities, dancing and sometimes chasing on-lookers along the way. Accompanying the process are Maroons, small bands of amateur musicians who are usually self-taught. They generally compose their own music, none of which is committed to the page, but rather passed down and taught by ear.

Traditionally a pagan holiday, the Halloween we know in the United States never really took root in the predominately Catholic Costa Rica, though it has steadily been gaining popularity over the years. While not seen as a mainstream holiday quite yet, Halloween is being celebrated more and more often with costume parties taking place in people’s homes and in various bars and discotheques, and is seen as more of an opportunity to get together rather than an excuse to go door-to-door begging for candy.

If you’ll be near San Jose, you may want to participate in the annual Zombie Walk, where you can dress as either a survivor or a zombie, and gather with the horde on a different kind of parade, shuffling through the streets and trying to frighten passers-by. The Zombie Parade is an example of how Ticos are adopting more mainstream Halloween activities, and is gaining in popularity each year.

Whether you choose to participate in Día de la Mascarada, Halloween, or both, you’ll have no shortage of ways to celebrate come this October 31st.


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Halloween in Costa Rica

Dia de la Mascarada: Costa Rica’s Version of Halloween

mascaradaHalloween in Costa Rica isn’t called Halloween. In the United States, October 31st is Halloween. In Costa Rica, October 31st is called “Dia de la Mascarada”, Day of the Masquerade. Costa Ricans celebrate this day in a couple of ways. Expatriates from the United States celebrate Halloween in a North American way with jack-o-lanterns, trick or treating and costume parties.


Ticos (native Costa Ricans) observe the expatriates Halloween traditions as foreign, and instead of the pumpkins and candy, they have used the time of year to revive the traditional Costa Rican Dia de la Mascarada.

Dia de la Mascarada originated as an adaption of Carnival. The Spaniards brought their costumed holiday, Carnival, and its masquerade dances to South and Central America. Costumes had always been part of the Pura Vida (Costa Rican) traditions, and this was a logical evolution. Costumes have been worn at all sorts of celebrations including birthdays, holidays and marriage ceremonies. Carnival became Dia de la Mascarada. In 1996, these cultural traditions had begun to fade away until a cultural committee decide to bring Pura Vida to the expats invading tradition; Halloween. It was in 1996 that the first traditional Pura Vida annual masquerade parade was held. The next year, the government established the annual parade as the Dia dal Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense. What a mouthful! In English that means, “Traditional Costa Rican Masquerade”.

The Masquerade Parade has become an opportunity for local artists to express themselves through the costumes. Each costume is known simply as a “masquerade”. Each masquerade has a head and a body. Each head is made from layers of glue and newspaper sheets that are dried in the sunshine. They are very similar to paper mache’ piñatas. These piñatas are made into humongous helmet-like heads. The heads are crafted representing a variety of characters. Skilled local artisans spend weeks preparing the masquerade costumes. The costumes represent:

  • Mythical characters
  • Social stereotypes
  • Imaginary characters
  • Saterized political figures
  • Actual political figures
  • National and internationally famous people
  • Famous journalists
  • Models
  • Soccer players
  • Actors

There are three characters that are not to be missed. They have been so popular that they have become part of the culture:

  • “La giganta” (The Giant Woman)
  • “La calavera” (The Skull)
  • “El diablillo” (The Little Devil)

The masquerade heads can take days to dry in the sun so that they are dry enough to be painted. When the painted heads are completed and further dried, a wire skeleton “body” is created to hold up the head. The masqueraders commonly walk the parade on stilts adding to the magnificent spectacle each character presents.

When the parade is over, spectators, comparasas and masqueraders alike mingle on the streets, browsing the street vendor’s food offerings and enjoying foods like:

  • Salvadorian pupusas (flatbreads stuffed with cheese and meat)
  • Jamaican jerk chicken on a stick
  • Argentinean empanadas (corn fritters stuffed with meat)
  • $.20 pipas (Pipas are fresh young coconuts that are taken straight from an ice bath. The street vendor then chops off the top of the coconut with a machete, pierces the flesh with a straw and you enjoy a delicious refreshing coconut drink!)
  • If dessert is what you are looking for, find the street vendors offering granizados and copos. These are a combination of condensed or powdered milk, flavored syrup and a mountain of shaved ice. Such a delicious treat on a hot Costa Rican day!

As an expat myself, I have enjoyed these colorful festivities every year that I have lived here. The parades are full of many people wearing their masquerades and dancing. The music is provided by groups of musicians walking with them, playing cymbals, trumpets and drums. These “comparsas” (groups of musicians) provide the excitement for the whole crowd. Imagine the rousing marching band songs with a Pura Vida flair playing one after the other.

Dia de la Masquerade is just as exciting as an American Halloween.