Fireworks exploded from the folds of the hills above Escazú, and the steady rhythm of drums could be heard throughout the western suburb. This was Costa Rica’s Independence Day – and similar scenes were repeated throughout the country on Monday and Tuesday.
Children paraded with elaborate lanterns in the shapes of homesteads and famous figures from Costa Rica’s past, while performers played traditional music in the background.
“We’ve been blessed because the weather has been good,” said Marco Antonio Segura, mayor of Escazú, celebrating the fact that the evening was clear despite being in the middle of the rainy season. “There are years when it pours, dampening the lanterns and making it impossible to light them.”
The lanterns represent the lights messengers carried from Guatemalan to Costa Rica in 1821 when spreading the news of independence from Spain. Each year, with the help of parents and teachers, children fashion decorative lanterns out of colorful paper and cardboard to display in parades on the eve of Independence Day, Sept. 15.
In recent years, the lanterns have become more elaborate and creative as children compete for the best design.
“It’s true that competition has increased (among the lantern-makers), not only for the children, but also for their parents,” Segura said. “In the past, the lanters were very simple. Now, for many, it’s a challenge to make the best.”
Costa Rica’s Independence Day does not belong to that country alone. On Sept. 15, all of the countries of Central America –from Guatemala to Costa Rica – celebrate their independence from Spain. This common history is symbolized by a torch that is carried down the isthmus, passing through each of the five countries.
The torch arrived in Costa Rica on Sunday morning, Sept. 13, at 11 a.m.
In light of this year’s conflict in Honduras, ousted Honduran President Manual Zelaya could not carry the torch through Honduras. Instead, he carried it through Nicaragua.
On Tuesday, the parade filled Avenida Segunda and Avenida Central in downtown San José with marching bands, dancers and participants dressed an an array of colorful costumes. The raising of the flag, the singing of the national anthem and a speech by President Oscar Arias drew a crowd to Parque Nacional in San José.
“I think it’s important to remember this day in our history,” said Diana Mora, 28, of Cartago. “We’re a small country, but we have accomplished a lot in 188 years.
We’ve established a democracy on our own and developed great systems for education, social security and health care, and I think we should be proud of that.”
See a video and photo report of Escazú’s lantern vigil at www.ticotimes.net.