Monday, April 11, is Juan Santamaría Day, a public holiday in Costa Rica that commemorates one of the country’s most famous national heroes.
In 1856, U.S. filibuster William Walker was waging war in Central America, aiming to take control of the region and establish a slave-trading empire. Costa Rica fought Walker and his army of mercenaries on April 11 at the Battle of Rivas in Rivas, Nicaragua. Juan Santamaría, a poor soldier from Alajuela, set fire to a hostel where the invading troops were staying, inflicting heavy losses on Walker’s troops, but was killed in the process (TT, April 4, 2008).
This act of heroism, which confirmed Costa Rica’s sovereignty, is remembered with parades, civic programs and fireworks throughout the country. 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 our hero.