What is Juan Santamaría Day?

April 10, 2018

Costa Rica, lacking an army since 1948, doesn’t have many war heroes. The most notable exception is Juan Santamaría, a poor drummer boy from Alajuela. Santamaría helped thwart a notorious U.S. figure’s march through Central America during the mid-19th century.

Celebrated every year on April 11, Juan Santamaría Day 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 set his sights on other Central American countries in hopes of developing a slave-trade empire. The Costa Rican government sent troops to Nicaragua to fight the growing threat.

It seemed unlikely that Costa Rica would win the battle until young Juan Santamaría 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. This act of heroism confirmed Costa Rica’s sovereignty and is celebrated every year with a parade and ceremony in Alajuela.

140410dancejuansantamaria

Originally published on April 10, 2014.

You may be interested

This week in the Peace Corps: Sports for Costa Rican youth
Changemakers
78 views
Changemakers
78 views

This week in the Peace Corps: Sports for Costa Rican youth

Elizabeth Lang - June 18, 2018

Last month, U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer Brian and his community partnered with student athletes from Marquette University through Courts for Kids to…

Once a symbol of Somoza-era torture, Nicaragua prison holds protesters
Nicaragua
108 views
Nicaragua
108 views

Once a symbol of Somoza-era torture, Nicaragua prison holds protesters

Maggy Donaldson / AFP - June 18, 2018

For days, María Magdalena Saldana has hooked a gold chain encircling her waist to the gate bulwarking one of Nicaragua's…

US lawmakers, First Lady criticize family separation at border
Immigration
113 views
Immigration
113 views

US lawmakers, First Lady criticize family separation at border

Olivia Hampton / AFP - June 18, 2018

Democratic lawmakers vowed Sunday to end the "evil" separation of migrant children from their parents at the U.S. border, as…