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).