This past weekend the annual Fiestas patronales (Patronage Festivals) were hosted in Fila Naranjo.
This was the first big celebration that’s happened in my community since I’ve been here so to say the least, I was pretty excited and intrigued to find out how Big Fila gets they party on.
So what is this fiesta anyway?! I know, you’re just dying to know.
Fiestas patronales are religious celebrations that celebrate and honor a saint or virgin who is the patron of a city or pueblo. The festivals are celebrated throughout Spanish and Catholic communities around the world (alrededor el mundo!) and are widespread throughout Costa Rica since the majority (around 70%) of the population here is Catholic.
In the region where I live, each pueblo has a “patron” that represents the community and church and in July and August, each location hosts their fiestas patronales on different weekends. According to my host mom, Santa Ana is the patron of Fila Naranjo and she is la abuela (grandma) de Jesus Christ. I’m not Catholic so I’m taking her word for it.
The festivals vary in length and can be 1-9 days and include religious ceremonies, food, dances, amusement parks, music, fairs, and other activities.
The celebration In Fila Naranjo was 3 days long from Friday to Sunday.
On Thursday we prepared for the weekend by making over 300 tamales, boiling plantains, cleaning the public kitchen and picking ferns to make decorations.
Friday’s 6pm Mass (misa) kicked off the weekend long festivities. There was a live band and practically everyone from the community came. The pews were packed.
For the past 2 months, people in the community have been building a new sagrario (a temple in the Catholic church to pray in and keep relics) and today was the day they finished it and opened it up to the public. People were excited, bread was brought and broken, and the inside was lit with red lightbulbs which, as my grandma would say, was really somethin’ else.
On Saturday and Sunday I worked in the kitchen making and serving traditional foods including casados (rice, beans, salad, tortilla, and some sort of meat), tamales, empanadas, soups (they just love their sopas here), and arroz con leche.
There was also women’s and men’s soccer games (of course).
And a 3-hour game of Bingo (I’m now an expert at numbers in Spanish).
and Karaoke (Both nights. Same songs. Same people.)
So how was the first community celebration experience?
I had fun! A lot of people here (especially the women) don’t leave their houses or their part of the community very often so it was a good opportunity to meet new people and build confianza (trust) with my community. One woman even invited me over to her house for coffee this week. Heyy-ooo!
At the same time, multi-day events like this can be exhausting. Three days of prepping and working in a kitchen with crazy fast (cooking and speaking) women, trying to have and make conversations, going to church as a non-religious person, meeting new people, all while just vigorously anticipating the next communication breakdown…can be tough. I think I stress ate an entire docena (dozen) de empanadas.
By Sunday afternoon I almost had an emotional breakdown because I couldn’t make tortillas. They weren’t round enough, I couldn’t get the two-handed technique down, and I wasn’t making them fast enough. I would be spinning my second one when ole fast-hands-McGee Ana Ruth over there was pushing 20.
And then I slept for like, 10 hours straight.
But I made it! I made it through another semi-awkward, uncomfortable, out-of-my-element experience once again. And this time it felt a little bit more comfortable, a little bit more natural, a little bit more fun and a little bit more like home. And hey, I came out on top with a cafecito invite, right?