Today is the first day of semana santa, or “holy week” in Costa Rica. Like most of Latin America, Costa Rica is Catholic, or at least ostensibly Catholic. In reality, whether a person is observant and goes to church really boils down to personal inclinations and familial traditions, but almost everyone is observant of one aspect semana santa: vacation! This week is possibly best described as a religious holiday tainted by a Spring Break ethos (or maybe even vice-versa).
Most schools and public institutions have the whole week off, and private companies often give their workers at least Thursday and Friday off. Those who have the time and money go on trips to the beach or the mountains, and hotel prices rise accordingly. Others stay home and watch the flurry of Charlton Heston movies on TV (well, at least The Ten Commandments and Ben-Hur, but I wouldn’t rule out a showing or two of Planet of the Apes; as my friend Lucy says, anything with a robe in it gets aired).
According to various stories I’ve heard (here’s a recent one), people used to leave tacks and nails in the road during the end of the week, since driving was apparently considered a sin. That fortunately seems to not happen anymore, but there are still superstitions related to going out on Good Friday. For example, the word on the street in my town, Berlín de San Ramón, is that if you go to a river on Good Friday, you’ll turn into a mermaid.
If you do want to see people out and about, you can find big groups of them walking along the streets in cities and towns, stopping to pray at crosses people leave in their yards. Right now in Berlín, in front of almost every other house you’ll find a cross with some purple cloth draped over it, like in the picture above. Larger cities often have big, elaborate processions reenacting Christ carrying the cross through the hostile streets of San Ramón… I mean Jerusalem.
As an outsider, the thing that still strikes me most about everything surrounding this week is that almost all the emphasis is on Good Friday and the crucifixion, and the resurrection and Easter Sunday are barely even mentioned. I wrote about this aspect in my other blog a few years ago, if you’d like to read that.
As for me, I’ll be staying home and relaxing most of this week, with occasional pauses to watch Jesus Christ Superstar. So if you’d like to add any comments or questions, please chime in by leaving a comment below. Thanks for reading, and have a great –and possibly even holy– week!
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