Traditional Costa Rican festivities and Halloween

mascarada5_bigThe 31st of October is usually the day when Halloween is celebrated but Costa Rica’s traditional Masquerade Day (la Mascarada) and Halloween-related activities continue this weekend.

Día de la Mascarada or “Traditional Costa Rican Masquerade” originated as an adaption of Carnival. The Spaniards brought their costumed holiday, Carnival, and its masquerade dances to Central America. This cultural traditions had begun to fade away until 1996 when the Ministry of culture decided to establish an annual parade called the Dia de la Mascarada Tradicional Costarricense. In the United States, October 31st is Halloween. In Costa Rica, October 31st is called “Dia de la Mascarada”, Day of the Masquerade. Parades celebrating this day are held throughout the country with many people wearing their large masks and dancing. The music is provided by groups of musicians called Cimarronas. These bands have been an important part of all Costa Rican celebrations for years. The name comes from the Spanish word for wild, cimarrón, and was originally used to refer to the band made up of self-taught musicians.

The Masquerade Parade has become an opportunity for local artists to express themselves through the costumes. Each costume is known simply as a “masquerade”. Every masquerade has a head and a body. The heads aremade from layers of glue and newspaper sheets that are dried in the sun. They are very similar to paper mache’ piñatas. These piñatas are made into humongous helmet-like heads. The heads are crafted representing a variety of characters. Skilled local artisans spend weeks preparing the masquerade costumes.

Besides the traditional Costa Rica festivities above traditional Halloween appears to have taken root in Costa Rica. Costume parties are held in people’s homes, as well as in many bars and discotheques. Some of festivities are held on the 31st of October or on the weekend preceding or after Halloween. This Halloween there was even a group of 200 cyclists who dressed in costumes who road through the streets who road through the suburb of San Pedro and Barrio Escalante.

I remember attending my first Halloween party in 1984. A group of gringo and tico friends organized a Halloween costume party at a now defunct restaurant/bar on Avenida Segunda called La Fonda. It was one of “the” hang outs for Costa Ricans and a local group of pioneer expats in the 1980s. Next door to La Fonda was a gringo bar called the Grupo 19. The establishment got it s name because a group of 19 local gringos wanted a place to hang out in downtown San José, so together the opened a bar. Like la Fonda “el Grupo” no longer exists.

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