Semana Santa or Easter Holy Week is one of the most important events for Costa Rican Catholics, and many centuries old traditions and beliefs are involved.
To prevent curses, people traditionally stopped all kinds of activities from Holy Wednesday through Good Friday. Women cooked everything for the sacred days in advance and reheated meals, while men collected extra wood for the stoves.
Families would get together and spend days praying, attending special Masses and rituals and taking part in the obligatory meditation on Jesus’ Passion Friday at 3 p.m., the time when Christ died. Some Catholics still maintain the traditions, though instead of spending the days praying, Ticos watch or rewatch Easter week specials such as “Jesus of Nazareth” or “The 10 Commandments.”
People also had superstitions, the most famous being “Never go swimming on Good Friday because you could turn into a fish.” Or if on that day you climbed a tree, you would run the risk of growing a tail.
Fortune hunters will love this one: They say that at midnight on Good Friday, the higuerón (giant fig) tree blossoms. There will be a cloud over it, where the devil waits for victims. Legend has it that the person who can get the flower without being caught by Satan will win the lottery and be rich forever.
Another superstition is that single men don’t like to carry the Saint John icon on their shoulders during the procession of the holy burial, because they believe they will never get married.
In rural towns in the northwestern Guanacaste province and elsewhere, a cloth effigy of Judas is burned at midnight. Afterwards, mischievous people collect anything they find in front of houses (oxcarts, shoes, garden tools, etc.) and put them all in the town soccer field. In some towns, people must pay the church to recover their belongings, and the church donates the money to the poor or uses it for restoration work.
Few Ticos who lived through it will forget the tremendous earthquake the night of April 2, 1983, remembered as El Terremoto del Sábado Santo (Holy Saturday Earthquake). Many took it as a sign from heaven; some communities were holding Mass or burning Judas when the 7.1-magnitude quake shook the country. Since then, people are a little nervous on Holy Saturday.
Don’t miss the processions, especially those held in San Joaquín de Flores and Mercedes Norte in Heredia, northwest of San José, as well as some Cartago towns, east of the capital, which feature live performances of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday. On Holy Saturday, Mass is usually on the solemn side, but afterwards churches change to a more lively celebration with music, flowers, coffee and snacks.
What’s Open, What’s Closed During Semana Santa
Semana Santa or Easter Holy Week may be a time of superstitions and solemn processions, but a good many Ticos take the opporunity to flock to the beach for acation. While coastal destinations will invariably be crowded this week, the capital will be pleasantly free of congestion, and license plate restrictions will be lifted for the entire week.
With a good part of the population traveling during this time, the Transit Police will be out in force on the highways, checking cars and watching for careless or drunken drivers.
Most businesses close on Holy Thursday and Good Friday, and a dry law prohibits the sale of alcohol from midnight Wednesday to midnight Saturday.
The following is a list of what’s open and what’s closed during Semana Santa.
Government offices: Following an edict from the Casa Presidencial, most government offices will be closed April 6 to 10.
Hospitals and pharmacies: Rest assured that public hospital emergency rooms will remain open 24 hours a day. The Red Cross (128 or 911) and National Insurance Institute (INS) (800-800-8000) also attend to emergencies at all hours.
The emergency rooms and pharmacies at private hospitals Clínica Bíblica (2522-1000), in downtown San José, La Católica (2283-6616), in the northeastern suburb of Guadalupe, and CIMA (2208-1000), in the western suburb of Escazú, will also be open 24 hours throughout the holiday period.
Banks: BAC San José (2295-9797) will operate as normal April 6 to 7, will close at 5:30 p.m. April 8, and will open from 1 to 6 p.m. April 11 and 12. Scotiabank (2210-4000) will close at 5 p.m. April 8 and will reopen April 13. Banco Nacional (2211-2000) will be closed April 9 to 10, while Banco Popular (2211-7000) and Banco de Costa Rica (2287-9000) will close April 9 to 12.
Supermarkets: The dry law will be in effect midnight April 8 to midnight April 11. Bars will be sealed shut and restaurants and supermarkets are prohibited from selling liquor for the 72-hour period.
Auto Mercado (2257-4242) stores in the Central Valley will be open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. April 9 and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Good Friday. Pacific coast stores in Playas del Coco, Herradura and Tamarindo will be open 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Holy Thursday and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Good Friday.
Muñoz y Nanne (2253-4646) in the eastern suburb of San Pedro will be operating as normal, but Saretto (2228-6703) in Escazú will be closed April 9 and 10. Call for opening hours of supermarket chains Más x Menos (2243-7100), Hipermás (2286-0033), Palí (2243-7100) and Megasuper (2246-0400). PriceSmart (2283-9464, 2288-0008, 2262-4848, 2297-2343) stores will be open from 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. April 6 to 8 and April 11 to 12; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 9; and closed on Good Friday.
Mail and shipping: Correos de Costa Rica (2202- 2900) will be closed April 9 to 12. Aerocasillas (2208-4848) will close at 3 p.m. April 8 and will not reopen until the following week. DHL (2209-6000) will be closed April 9 to 12.
Embassies: The British (2258-2025), Canadian (2242-4400), U.S. (2220-3939) and French (2234-4167) embassies will all be closed April 9 to 10.
Veterinarians: The National University (UNA) veterinary hospital in Barreal de Heredia (2260-9234) is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Dr. Bitter’s clinics in San José and Escazú (2227-5017) and Dr. Adrián Molina (2228-1909, emergency 2225-2500) in Escazú will be closed on Holy Thursday and Good Friday.