First to come through are the saints, then the oxcarts, and if that weren’t enough luminaries, flags and bands are to follow. If the Olympics were ever hosted in San Ramon, then this would be the mammoth opening parade ceremony. Since it’s not quite that, these events are broken down into smaller doses, with each one getting due attention.
If you ever wanted to get a cultural experience in a nutshell, you can’t go wrong spending 17 days in San Ramon at the end of summer. In those 17 days, you’d be treated to 4 parades, with each one depicting the culture of San Ramon.
All the parades are unique in their own way, however the first parade, the Saint’s Entrance, has special
recognition by being the only one of its kind in Costa Rica. Each neighborhood in San Ramon is assigned a saint and they have the chance to parade a representation of it around town and display it in the church for two weeks. Each town adds their own flare to their saint, and my favorite ones were accompanied by bands, and dancers. It has gotten so popular that there was even a delegation from Mexico participating in the parade. This is a good warm up parade as it coincides with the Saint of San Ramon day, Saint Raymond. However, my favorite parade was yet to come.
Before trains, cars, and highways, Costa Rica was moved by ox and oxcart. These animals don’t work near as hard nowadays but this parade commemorates their contributions to the growth of Costa Rica, and the colorful designs of the oxcarts. We had the fortune of the parade passing in front of
my aunt’s house and were able to observe oxes from all over the country. The slow moving parade was great for families, as you could walk out into the street and get your picture taken with any oxcart and you could even participate by riding in one. It was amazing to see the pride people still have in this tradition and their enthusiasm in preserving it. My wife’s family would applaud and congratulate the owner each time a nice ox and oxcart tandem walked by. There is still a lot of appreciation for them, as their generation still can remember them as a primary means of transportation. This parade is renowned for being the largest of its type in Costa Rica.
After this parade, there is a lull for about a week, until patriotism kicks in. September 15th, 196 years ago was the day Costa Rica was granted its independence along with pretty much all of Central America. For a country without an army, the parade had somewhat a military tone, even though Costa Rica never had to fight for its independence. These parades are held in towns all over the country and are not unique in nature, but I think each town competes to outdo each other. If it can march, then it can be in the parade. Marching baton twirlers, flag bearers, and bands highlighted the festivities and were accompanied by floats depicting traditional Costa Rica country life. I loved the bands, and taken out of context, one might believe it was college football Saturday.
Despite how inspiring this parade was, it was actually more of a continuation from the previous evening’s luminaire parade. Independence was officially declared and signed in the evening on September 14th. At that time there wasn’t electricity and all the townspeople congregated with lanterns in the square to witness the event. Funny thing though, this happened in Guatemala and Costa Rica wasn’t even aware of it till the next day, but they’ve since picked up the tradition to instigate civic pride in children. I don’t attend this parade (yet) but children and parents really take pride in creating their luminaries and some are even entered to be judged.
There is a lot to parade about in Costa Rica, but this time of year there is a lot to focus on. What I enjoy most about these parades is the dedication of the participants. It’s not uncommon for participation in 3 or even 4 parades, and not once will you see their spirits dampened. The smiles on the faces of the cowboys with their ox, or the seriousness of the flagbearers, and even the lightheartedness of the Saints parade. My friend is the band instructor at the elementary school across the street from my house and starting as early as June we’ll be treated to afternoon recitals as they are out in the street preparing for parade season.
Missing from these parades are floats, candy and fireworks. I’m not sure why candy hasn’t caught on here, as almost everything is eventually copied from North America. Fireworks are viewed as only for Christmas and New Year’s, while floats popular in years past, appeared to be out of style this year.
Maybe I’ve been out of the US too long, but I didn’t feel their absence at all. For me it was heartwarming to look down main street and see it packed with people as far as the eye could see and the community feeling was great. I wasn’t in any of the parades, but I ran into a lot of people I knew just in the course of coming and going from them.
I would have been drained after this marathon of parades and the only thing I can say is I’m lucky I don’t have kids yet, as my Septembers will then get completely turned upside down. It’s worth noting that children’s day is celebrated right in the middle of all these parade dates and it might only be a matter of time before they add a parade for them. If that were to happen, then I think San Ramon could think about bidding to host the Olympic opening ceremony.
About the author:
Dustin is from the United States and is a naturalized Costa Rican citizen. When not writing for the Costa Rica Frika blog, he is running the Costa Rica Frika organization.