One of the busiest weeks of the year is fast approaching here in Costa Rica, the much anticipated week of Semana Santa. Holy Week is considered to be one of the most important holidays for Costa Ricans other than the week of Christmas.
There is indescribable energy in the air leading up to Semana Santa that rides out through the warm breeze as the holiday days approach. It is a time of worship, traditions, celebration, travel, food, and family, everything that ticos love all combined into one long festive week.
If you are in Costa Rica, you may have already noticed the many crosses outside of homes are draped in purple fabric in honor of Lent representing royalty and remembrance. Holy Week begins Sunday, April 10, and is celebrated until Saturday, April 16, being the week that leads up to Easter Sunday.
Costa Rica is a country that is rich in its traditions and culture and within Semana Santa, you can bear witness to much of this. It is a country with a large catholic following and towns and cities throughout Costa Rica have masses all through the week for those to honor their religious traditions.
Parades and processions vary throughout the country from small villages having quieter ceremonies to honor their religion to areas with actors putting in hours of rehearsal for the grand re-enactments of the death and resurrection of Christ through the streets. The streets are shut down for the epic performances as they are lined with worshippers to pay their respects in prayer and mourning.
Masses of worship are held within the week beginning on Holy Week’s Palm Sunday through to Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. As the end of Holy Week arrives, Easter Sunday becomes a day of rejoicing and more celebrations for those commemorating the day of resurrection with feasts and masses.
Semana Santa comes with superstitions to some and ones that might seem a bit quirky. One is that if you don’t want to turn into a fish, they say you shouldn’t swim on Good Friday. Swimming on Holy Thursday and Good Friday could anger God and result in you drowning. Others believe that there are more earthquakes during Holy Week and on April 2, 1983, the Holy Saturday earthquake lived up to their superstitions.
As the 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit the southern Pacific Coast many were partaking in religious activities and mass where one person was left dead and another 500 were left homeless which many remember every Holy Saturday.
If you haven’t already booked your accommodations and hotels, you may be out of luck and what is left will most definitely be a bit pricier. Prices can be upwards of double during Semana Santa in some places. Being one of the most popular and loved travel weeks of the year, it is a week of vacations and escapes.
It is Costa Rica’s version of spring break essentially. Especially for those that are government employees for Costa Rica who this year have been granted all 9 days off, some days which were already scheduled to be closed.
Therefore, go with the flow this Semana Santa and don’t expect to accomplish too much, police and emergency services of course will still be available but you may want to put off any other errands for another week that involve any sort of banking or government service.
Everything and I mean everything will be busy, the beaches, the parks, everyone is out enjoying Costa Rica and their beloved Easter Holy Week. If you were hoping for a quiet day at the beach, this is not the week. Traffic heading to any of the beaches will have congested roads, especially the roads coming out of San Jose, so be prepared.
The beach is where almost everyone ends up, keeping in mind too it is March Break in other countries with many in search of a sunny beach holiday.
Coming together with family is one of the deep-seated traditions for Semana Santa with the long weekend and days off people have the time to travel to meet up with loved ones, spend days sitting out, gathering and catching up, cooking, and sharing food.
It is a family-oriented week of connecting and celebrating together and when ticos celebrate there is always good food and a lot of it. Many spend their days ahead of time preparing food for Holy Week. Chiverre is found on many plates as cookies, puddings, jellies, and empanadas.
Its harvest season is right before Semana Santa and has a similar shape and appearance to watermelon but the texture of pumpkin. The squash is cooked to a consistency similar to jam with brown sugar and the sweet miel de chiverre is eaten as a spread or encased in fresh empanadas.
Be prepared to fill up on empanadas!
Sweet empanadas of pineapple, dulce de leche, cajeta, and even coconut are served on their own or paired with a delicious Costa Rican café, there are never-ending empanadas to savory ones of cheese, black beans, or potatoes. Seafood becomes a staple more so than usual with the practice of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Ceviches, rice and shrimp, fish soups, and fried fish are prepared and relished.
Semana Santa in Costa Rica is a holiday for all, whether you observe the religious practices or your family traditions of coming together, sharing laughs and endless meals. It is a week to get out of the routine of life, step back, and appreciate and cherish your blessings. If you are visiting Costa Rica during this Semana Santa, look around and discover what pura vida truly is.
It is much more than a saying or slogan on a souvenir it is the heart and essence of what Costa Rica and Semana Santa are and is the ultimate time to experience the pure life of this amazing country.