San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Costa Ricans prepare for Juan Santamaría Day, a national holiday, on Thursday

Juan Santamaría Day, held every year in April, commemorates the Costa Rican victory in the Battle of Rivas in 1856 against the U.S. citizen William Walker and his mercenary army. 

After overthrowing the government of Nicaragua, Walker began setting his sights on other Central American countries in hopes of developing a slave-trade empire. The Costa Rican government called on its citizens to head to Nicaragua to fight the growing threat.

Juan Santamaría, a poor drummer boy – now a legend – set fire to a hostel where a number of Walker’s soldiers were staying. The fire led to a heavy loss in troops for Walker’s army, but also killed Santamaría in the process. This act of heroism, which confirmed Costa Rica’s sovereignty, will be remembered with parades, civic programs and fireworks throughout the country on Thursday. Most businesses and government offices will be closed for the holiday, and parades may block some of the main streets in towns and cities throughout the country.

The country’s primary international airport in Alajuela, northwest of San José, is named after the hero.

The official celebration will start in Juan Santamaría Park in Alajuela at 9 a.m. and feature music, a parade and a speech by President Laura Chinchilla.

Follow throughout the day for photos of the event.

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