Tradition of Celebrating Semana Santa

What tradition did I learn about?


I learned about Semana Santa, which is the week leading up to Easter. This year Semana Santa was the last week in March. What does Semana Santa mean? It directly translates as Holy Week, but what does it mean to Costa Ricans? To answer that, I have to break it a bit.

What is Semana Santa to Costa Rican Catholics? Easter, which is a holy holiday according to Christianity, is on the Sunday after Holy Week ends. During Holy Week, there are a great number of processions, which are like very fancy parades. They are more serious than your typical Fourth of July parade where they throw out candy and have horses. They are usually led by leaders in a specific church and consist of the congregation, or people who attend the church. They walk from a certain spot and end up at their church and they can walk in the parade for miles. This comes from being a symbol of a religious pilgrimage, or journey, which used to be very common. People might journey from cities away to go to a certain church.
What is Semana Santa to Costa Rican students? All school aged kids, including university students, usually get the entire week off. As do their parents in most jobs, though now it is common that they are only off Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. My university gave us the entire week off, so to students, this is the equivalent of the United States’ Spring Break. Most people pack up and go to the beach or go to see their families OR they get their families and head down to the beach. I went to Playa Tamarindo during Semana Santa with some friends. I will share photos and stories in my next Logbook.
What is Semana Santa to their culture? During Semana Santa, starting on the Thursday before Easter, everything closes their doors for the holidays. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING. You cannot even find an open grocery store. On Wednesday afternoon, my host mom rushed to the grocery store to make sure we had enough food for the weekend. Public buses don’t run and taxis aren’t in service either. If you want to get anywhere, you must drive yourself if you have a car or walk. Many people walk in these processions just to get to the church service. Everything is closed down except for churches, both Catholic and Christian. There are many extra services and on Sunday, Christian churches (who normally might not take communion every week) will take communion on Easter Sunday.

Why does the community have this tradition?

Easter is a holiday that is prominent in Catholicism and Christianity. Costa Rica has a national religion of Catholicism. This is why the entire country basically shuts down during Semana Santa. The entire country is celebrating the holiday. Most of the people there are fairly religious. All of the taxis on the inside have a picture of Jesus or the Virgin Mary hanging from the rearview mirror and “Dios le acompane” sewn on the back of the seat, which means ‘God be with you’.

Is this tradition connected to its environment? How?

Semana Santa is connected to the environment in its cultural aspect. Costa Rica was found by Christopher Columbus and it was then colonized by people from Spain. Spain was a Catholic country during this time. When the Spaniards came to Costa Rica, they brought their religion and taught it to the natives. This is why most of Central and South America are Catholics.

The food that is made around the time of Semana Santa is related to the environment. Chiverre is made from a special kind of fruit. This fruit is expensive and only available during this time in March. After finding and spending a pretty penny on this fruit, you have to start the process of obtaining what is inside of it to make the chiverre. I’m not sure on the details of the process, but my host mom and I visited one of her oldest friends who made us bread with chiverre inside and told us that the process took her six hours!

The bowl of brown stuff on the right is chiverre also to use like jam on the bread. They wrap up tomales in banana leaves like little presents! This is a Costa Rican tomale which is also only made around Semana Santa and Christmas This is pan dulce (sweet bread), which is filled with chiverre.

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