Semana Santa: Experiencing Holy Week in Costa Rica

Where I come from, I’ve learned to celebrate Easter Sunday by painting eggs and brunching hard.

Champagne mimosas, stacks of pancakes and mounds of crispy hash browns.

The best of the best Sundays with the family. That’s my Easter.

But here in Costa Rica, things are done a little bit differently this time of year. And there’s no hypothetical bunny hopping around leaving chocolate creme-filled eggs and plastic confetti grass everywhere.

On the note of folkloric creatures can I just say that instead of a tooth fairy, here, A RAT comes to leave money underneath children’s pillows after they’ve lost a tooth. How terrifying is that?!

I just had to get that out there. Anyway, back to Easter stuff.

In Costa Rica, we celebrate Semana Santa (semana = week, santa = holy/saint).

Archivo_000 (3)Semana Santa, also known as Holy Week, is a major Catholic holiday celebrated throughout the world that consists of parades, processions, and local community celebrations. The holiday starts on Palm Sunday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday.

Last year, because I was still in training during this time, I was in San Jose for the celebration and attended the processions and parades. They really went all out.

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After the parade finished, Jesus was crucified.

This year, I was in my community and things were much more low key, even though people are very dedicated to the Catholic religion where I live.

In rural Costa Rica, communities are often very religious because of their traditional upbringing and tight-knit community, which has limited exposure to cultural diversity. Furthermore, religion is a common ground for many people and the church is a place, one of the only places, where the community regularly comes together.

In Fila Naranjo, every family except for two identifies as Roman Catholic and attends church one to two times per week and celebrates religious holidays.

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During Holy Week, many homes will display a cross with a purple cloth draped over it.

But even in a smaller community, we celebrated Semana Santa with traditional foods like empanadas with chiverre and canned tuna and sardines on Good Friday because meat is prohibited. YUM.

There were no parades or community events as extravagant as the ones in San Jose but on Good Friday, the Catholic community gathered together and walked from one end of the community back to the center of town where the church is and then held their mass.

Now, although I myself am not a religious person and don’t claim or practice a particular religion, going to church (sometimes) and attending religious events and celebrations has been an important way for me to understand the culture and values of my community.

And for me, it’s been a great way to create an intercambio (exchange) with my host families and share with them a part of my culture and how I celebrate events and holidays in my own country while also taking interest in theirs.

So yes, that meant coloring eggs, talking about a creepy bunny that breaks into our homes at night, and explaining the significance of brunch (noun): a gluttonous combination of breakfast and lunch.

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