Folklore spans all manifestations of our daily culture, from the way we dress, speak, and dance, to our songs, verses, religious services, superstitions and other typical reflections of Costa Rican life. Knowledge of folklore and our traditions is key to understanding the roots of our ancestors.
A large number of the typical or folkloric songs performed in Costa Rica hail from the province of Guanacaste. These include, for example, the Punto Guanacasteco, El Torito (Little Bull), Pasión (Passion), Amor de Temporada (Seasonal Love), Pampa, and El Caballito Nicoyano (the Little Horse from Nicoya), among many others.
Our musical instruments share a relationship with our songs. The inhabitants of the Nicoya Peninsula have created many musical instruments, some with indigenous influence, including drums, jaques quijongos, ocarinas, chirimias, whistles (made from animal bones), and others, such as guitars and the marimba, copied from other areas. All, however, have been extraordinarily perfected in the region.
Bombas are examples of oral expressions – mostly quatrains – that express aspects of daily life, especially in Guanacaste. They can be classified into the following types:
Quiero ser perla fina (I want to be a fine pearl)
de tus pulidos aretes (From your polished earrings)
para darme una vueltita (So that I may turn around)
y morderte los cachetes. (And nip at your cheeks)
uyuyuy mamita.. (Oh oh oh, sweet lady)
The legends of Costa Rica are a collection of stories and folkloric traditions that refer to a fictitious, fantastical event, but that have roots in reality. They tell of heroic events from our national history, and of mythological beings, souls in pain, supernatural characters, and the origins of places and things. People believe in these stories, and they are often considered to have really happened.
Costa Rican legends are composed in large part by tales of souls in pain, magic, or indigenous culture, all united by the constant presence of religion, which characterizes the Costa Rican people, most of whom are Catholic. Some of the most famous stories are of La Llorona (the Crying Woman), El Cadejos (a mysterious dog), La Segua (a woman with a horse’s head), and La Carreta sin Bueyes (The Ox-less Oxcart).
Costa Rican ingenuity and the richness of our language have created wise expressions oft repeated in popular culture. These are called refranes, or proverbs, and are no more than short sentences that express the wisdom of our ancestors.
Some people understand them and others question them, but without a doubt we all use these proverbs at one point or another. Examples:
“En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo” (In the home of a blacksmith, a knife made of wood): Where something should be easiest to find, is exactly where it will be absent.
“A caballo regalado no se le busca colmillo” (One does not look for fangs on a gifted horse): Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. In other words, when someone gives a gift, don’t look for its defect.
“A Dios rogando y con el mazo dando” (To God, pleading, and with the pestle, giving): We shouldn’t just wait for things to come to us; we should also seek them out.
CIMARRONAS, CLOWNS AND MASCARADAS
Clowns and mascaradas, a type of masquerade parade, are a long-standing custom that is deeply rooted in Costa Rican tradition. During Fiestas Patonales (celebrations to honor the patron saint of each town), it is common to see children running through the streets, chasing clowns. In general, clowns engage in silly dancing to live band music. La Giganta (the Giant), el Diablo (the Devil), la Muerte (Death), el Policía (the Policeman) and la Calavera (the Skull) are some of our most popular clowns.
La giganta, el diablo, el cadejos, la segua, parakeets, parrots and even scarlet macaws all have their own masks, which were first created in Cartago before the tradition expanded to Barva de Heredia and Escazu. The largest masks are made of fiberglass, and the smallest of paper and mud. The Day of the Traditional Costa Rican Mascarada is celebrated on October 31.
Our towns and cities celebrate their patron saint celebrations, or fairs, with horse parades, horse races, bull riding, running of the bulls, street food, carnivals and mascaradas. In San José, this custom is celebrated each year during the well-known “Fiestas de Zapote,” or Zapote Carnival. This celebration is one of our more recent traditions, and one that is enjoyed by all.
The majority of Costa Rican traditions are closely linked to religion. From religion, we celebrate each town’s Patron Saint days, as well as Holy Week and August 2 (Day of the Virgin of Los Angeles), when the majority of Costa Ricans make a pilgrimage to Cartago.
Cultural tradition goes hand-in-hand with our religious spirit, influencing our special dishes. Examples of Costa Rican foods include chiverre honey (a sweet squash marmalade), roasted tamales, rice pudding, chiverre empanadas, coconut caramels, and pickled vegetables, as well as our traditional dishes like gallo pinto, minced arracache squash, fresh corn tortillas and, more recently, arroz con pollo (chicken and rice).
Festival of Lights:
This became a tradition the first time it was celebrated, in 1995. The festival consists of a parade with mostly Christmas-themed floats. The parade circles through the downtown neighborhoods of our capital, San José. In recent years, some cantons have begun to organize similar activities that bring thousands of people together from all over the country to enjoy lighted floats, and encourage the Christmas spirit. This parade is held during the month of December.
Costa Ricans are avid sports fans, both as observers and participants.
The most popular sport is soccer, which is played in the vast majority of Costa Rican towns. Other favorite sports include boxing and track & field, and Costa Ricans have made a name for themselves in these two sports. Swimming and cycling are also popular.
In general, Ticos visit soccer stadiums every weekend and practice the famous “mejenga” (pronounced may-hen-gah), which are soccer games among friends.
The cinema holds an important place in Costa Rican hearts, and locals visit movie theaters often.
Movies present an important exception in the Costa Rican cultural panorama, in the sense that, as opposed to music, literature, and theater, in our country the public is accustomed to watching independent films, or alternative cinema.
“Tico” food is not highly seasoned or spiced. Staple ingredients are rice, beans, corn, vegetables, beef, chicken and fish, which are often served with corn tortillas.
Among Costa Rica’s modern typical foods, we have the exquisite bizcocho (a type of breadstick), homemade breads, and tortillas, all accompanied by a never-ending stream of choices including tripe soup, meatballs, olla de carne (a typical beef stew), casseroles, and refried beans, as well as a wide range of minced dishes that feature potatoes, squash, arracache, and green plantains. We have a variety of rice dishes, among them our famous arroz con pollo, arroz guacho, vegetarian rice, simple white rice, or rice seasoned with annatto. Small appetizers called gallitos, which are served with corn tortillas, include refried beans, pork cracklings, chorizo sausage and any other combination you could wish for. In December, entire families participate in the creation of our traditional Christmas “tamales” – although they are available year-round – made with corn flour, chicken, pork cracklings, rice and vegetables.