Celebrating Costa Rica

In Santa Cruz we had a wonderful week celebrating the Fiesta Patronal de Santo Cristo Negro de Esquipulas from January 14th-20th. Since Santa Cruz is known as the folklore capital of Costa Rica, this famous folklore festival is one of the highlights of the entire year, and involves a lot of preparation and anticipation by everyone in town.

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The festival honors the town’s patron saint, Santo Cristo de Esquipulas, with a week of dancing, cultural activities, and local food. A black plaster carving of the saint appeared long ago in Santa Cruz, at the foot of a Coyol tree. The townspeople brought it to the local priest, who kept it with him. But overnight the carving mysteriously disappeared and reappeared by the tree. This happened again and again, leading the priest to believe it was a sign to construct a church where the carving was found. That is where the current Catholic church in Santa Cruz, Iglesia Santo Cristo de Esquipulas, is now located.

The week began with a procession that brought the carving to Santa Cruz from where it is now housed in another town called Arado. A procession followed the figure through the journey, and its arrival to Santa Cruz was celebrated with various religious ceremonies. This begins the festival by recognizing the miracle and the protection the people of Santa Cruz believe the saint gives to the area.

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The arrival of the saint began a week of fun and family time for everyone in Santa Cruz. Visitors from all over Costa Rica came to celebrate. The streets were completely full of people, horses, food vendors, and music played from local instruments, most notably the large marimba. Festival grounds were complete with amusement park rides, dance floors for dancing to reggaeton or local classics, as well as vendors selling everything from shoes to sofas! Fireworks were set off at all hours and the party often didn’t stop until a small parade at 5:00am that “officially” ended each night.

Even with the late nights, the festivities seemed to never stop! Everyday at noon began the Tope de Payasos or March of the Clowns, where townspeople dressed up in traditional masks and performed dances and songs through the streets. Usually children led the way, taunting the “clowns.” They are followed by local bands, and a truck filled with the bulls that will be ridden that day.

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Just for the festival the town constructed an arena to hold the larger quantity of people who come to see the bulls. The bull riding in Santa Cruz is unique because sometimes two people ride one bull at the same time. The riders also use a special leather saddle that is famous for being the best in Costa Rica. According to local traditions, particularly excited spectators are also allowed to enter the arena while the bull is being ridden, to taunt it or even touch it. The entire crowd gets involved and has a great time- though gasps can be heard throughout the arena when particularly ornery bulls trample or knock unwitting spectators. A queen of the festival is also anointed, and she and her two attendants ride around the arena to get the crowd excited.

To round out the festivities, on Friday the horse parade attracted people from all over Costa Rica who showed off different types of horses and different riding styles. There was also the the Carrera de Cintas, where riders have to get a small wooden arrow through a hoop while they ride past it. All of these activities had fun prizes which kept everyone very motivated to win and the energy high! Most people cheered and watched while eating sweet tamales, varieties of local meats, or while drinking coyol wine and chicha, an alcoholic drink made from fermented corn.

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This week has been a colorful, loud,and entertaining demonstration of the pride and commitment to keeping local traditions and customs alive here in Santa Cruz. This festival is a great window into the “pura vida” or pure life Costa Rican joyful attitude.The entire Guanacaste region is full of incredible local legends, history, and art. I feel incredibly lucky to have experienced this beautiful celebration of what makes Santa Cruz such a memorable and special place to all who visit.

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