Costa Rican Culture
Known as the “Switzerland of the Americas,” Costa Rica has a strong democratic tradition and a long history of dispute resolution.
Owing in part to their impressive 95 percent literacy rate and national education system, Costa Ricans are a self-assured and hospitable people. The most stable democracy in Central America, Costa Rica’s voting system ensures honest, secure elections. The indigenous people gained their right to vote in 1994.
Peace-Loving People Help Stabilize Region
For the past 100 years, the country has known only two very short military regimes. Following a civil war in 1948, in two of the most innovative moves in recent history, Costa Rican president Pepe Figueres constitutionally abolished the army, and limited presidents to serve one term only. Nine presidential campaigns since 1949 has produced victories for the opposition candidate seven times — all with an 80 percent voter participation rate! In a region plagued by civil wars, human rights abuses, and until recently dictatorships, Costa Rica stands out as an exception. Since 1949, when the army was abolished, the country has had a fairly stable democracy. The new Constitution of 1949 included a progressive labor code, upheld a system of social security, and contained a set of social guarantees( such as a minimum wage), that gave the average citizen rights that were ahead of their time.
In many ways this diminished the disparity between the upper and lower classes and thus was conducive to cooperation and the resolution of conflicts in a democratic forum. The government, albeit plagued by problems over the decades, has shown a commitment to broad social welfare. This commitment coupled with a strong support of public education and public health has helped create a mature populace that has learned how to solve problems without resorting to armed conflict.
Education is Key to Nation’s Strength
In 1869, the country became one of the first in the world to make education both free and obligatory, funded by the state’s share of the great coffee wealth. By 1920, fully half of the population was literate, and by 1970, 89 percent were able to read and write.
Education up to the sixth grade is obligatory, and the network of public schools is dispersed into the far corners of the land. The country is now home to a handful of well regarded universities, such as the National University and the University of Costa Rica. Fully 27 percent of the national budget is spent on education and culture, supporting four public universities, three symphonic orchestras, five autonomous state publishing houses and a growth rate in education of 10 percent yearly.
Religious Celebrations Unite Families
Easter is the premier holiday, and Semana Santa (Holy Week) is a time when most all express their faith, bringing the nation to a standstill. Spanish-style street processions take place every day of the week before Easter, to dramatize all stages of Christ’s way to the cross, crucifixion, and resurrection. Small villages have their own way of celebrating, and they add to the occasion the blessing of oxcarts, horses and trucks. Families everywhere prepare “dulce de chiverre” (sweet preserves), “arroz con leche” (sweet rice), “tamal mudo,” eggnog, quesadillas, “rosquillas” and “polvorones,” and special dishes with seafood.
During the Christmas celebration and some days previous to New Years, a similar phenomenon — the national “fiesas patronales,” is celebrated. Families gather to display nativity scenes at their homes and to celebrate the “posadas,” a custom where children, playing sheperds, go house to house and sing Christmas carols, re-enacting the journey of Mary and Joseph. The “Rosario del Niño” is a rosary the families pray to conclude the Christmas celebration. Musicians perform traditional carols while the party-goers feast on traditional meals. One of the most typical foods is tamales, but families also serve “hecho de masa de maiz y rellenos de arroz,” and “carne de cerdo y vegetales.”
Another religious celebration is the pilgrimage to the Basilica de los Angeles in Cartago city, in honor of the Virgin of the Angels. During this holiday many people walk to the city from all parts of the country, in order to pay a “promise” to the Virgin (when she answered a prayer) or to renew their faith. Some believers travel for days or even weeks in order to reach their destination and to honor the Virgin. Even though some Costa Ricans decide to party during religious celebrations, they still prefer the company of their family.
Independence Day is the most significant non-religious holiday inCosta Rica. Every town has its own formal official celebration including parades of young children, music bands and majorettes. People carry the national flags and wear with the national colors red, blue and white.