It seems a little weird that Costa Rica’s Independence Day falls on September 15 – the exact same day as Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala’s Dia de Independencia. However, it’s no coincidence that Costa Rica shares its special day with the rest of Central America. Here’s why:
A Brief History Lesson
Back in colonial times, the present-day countries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica were all considered one gigantic Spanish-controlled territory known as the Captaincy General of Guatemala.
Most people residing in these countries wanted to be free and independent from Spain; but they were smart enough to know that they didn’t want the inevitable battles and gruesome warfare necessary to get there. Instead of picking a fight, Central America cleverly sat back and bided their time – watching and waiting while their Mexican neighbors to the north took care of all that messy fighting nonsense.
When it became pretty clear that Spain was tuckered out from conflicts in Mexico and South America, the Captaincy General de Guatemala made their move. On September 15, 1821 the Captaincy formally declared independence from the Spanish empire. Spain was simply too tired to fight it, and as a result Central Americans won their sovereignty (pretty much) without a drop of their own bloodshed.
What’s up with all of the lanterns?
In the modern world of iPhones and instant internet, it’s hard to imagine a message taking an entire month to travel from one country to another. But that’s just what happened in Guatemala on September 15th, 1821.
According to folklore, on the night the Captaincy declared its independence a woman named Maria Dolores Bedoya took to the streets with lanterns screaming: “Long live patriotism! Long live liberty!” Others followed suit, running with their own lanterns and passing the news due south like fireflies. Word of the area’s newfound independence spread – painstakingly slow by today’s standards, but lightning fast for back then – and it took almost an entire month for the happy message to reach Costa Rica*.
Each year, Costa Rica’s schoolchildren mimic the passing of this news. The week before Dia de Independencia, kids compete for who can make the most artistic paper lantern to parade about the eve before the country’s official Independence Day. Entire families pitch in to help make these beautiful creations, and on September 14th communities gather together wearing traditional garb to show off their works of art.
*Fun fact: Costa Rica didn’t actually become Costa Rica until 1838, when it declared independence again from the larger Central American whole. But that’s another story for another time.
The Torch of Peace and Liberty
Each year, outstanding high school students all over Central America are chosen for the honor of participating in another important symbolic ceremony called the “Torch of Peace and Liberty.” This running of the torch involves passing a flame from one hand to the next, roughly 200 meters at a time, through five countries from Guatemala all the way down to Costa Rica. An estimated 20,000 students participate in Costa Rica alone, running an impressive 240 miles (386 kilometers) in total. Talk about teamwork!
By: Genna Marie