Like the rest of Central America, Costa Rica never fought for independence from Spain. On September 15th, 1821, after the final Spanish defeat in the Mexican War of Independence, the authorities in Guatemala declared the independence of all of Central America. That date is celebrated in Costa Rica as Independence Day, despite the fact that under the Spanish constitution of 1812 that had been readopted in 1820, Nicaragua and Costa Rica had become an autonomous province, with its capital in Leon.
Independence Day in Costa Rica is celebrated with much fun and merriment. The national holiday is marked by the hoisting of the national flag, patriotic parades and performances by students in the community.
The fun begins today, when various schools from communities around the country make colorful homemade lanterns, which are lit by candles. The lanterns are lit at 6pm, and Costa Ricans join their voices to sing the National Anthem. The students then walk through the streets, carrying their lanterns, often accompanied by drums and singing.
This tradition comes from the night of September 14th, 1821, when delegates from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador met in the Guatemalan Plaza with the purpose of joining their voices and saying out loud in unison, “Long live liberty”, just a few hours before the declaration of independence was given in that country. The entire town gathered in the City Hall, lighting the place with lamps and lanterns.
The decorations with lanterns remained for many years in Central American countries and in Costa Rica, despite the fact that Costa Ricans had no knowledge of the declaration of independence until one month later, when the Independence Torch arrived. However, the tradition still remains, and the colorful candle lit night reminds Costa Ricans of the love and pride they have for their peaceful and democratic nation.
The celebration continues tomorrow, when the streets are filled with parades, boys and girls dancing in traditional clothing, drums, singing, and honor roll students carrying Costa Rican flags. The environment in these parades is generally very peaceful, and proud citizens, both young and old, often join the crowd and watch as the school boys and girls walk the streets. It is a very family oriented event, devoid of any military overtones, as Costa Rica abolished its army in 1949.
Transit Police and the Fuerza Publica, however, will be guarding the streets to ensure a safe and healthy environment for both children in the parades, as well as families, friends and spectators in general. They will also be on the lookout in parks where activities will be held, and will be watching the Independence Torch. They will be making special emphasis in Cartago, as President Laura Chinchilla will be present to observe the festivities.
Unfortunately, citizens in Nicoya , Nandayure and Hojancha will not be enjoying the festivities this year, as the Health Ministry requested that no activities be held due to the earthquake. Authorities believe it would be best not to have large groups of people gathered in a single location, as it could put people at risk if another seismic event occurred.
The rest of the country will be enjoying one more year of peace, democracy and of course…independence!