Holy Week in Christianity is the last week of Lent (the week before Easter). In Costa Rica we celebrate the whole week, literally, and it has been this way since 1526, date when the first Holy Week took place in the Chira Island. Considered the most important holiday in the Catholic calendar, it commemorates the last week of the earthly life of Jesus Christ before his crucifixion on Good Friday and his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

For most Costa Ricans, Holy Week is a time for religious traditions as families gather to share their faith and time together. Many religious activities, including colorful processions, are held during those days in all cities and towns of the country.

Holy Week begins on Palm Sunday, which commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. On Holy Thursday, the main events are the institution of Communion and the betrayal by Judas; and on Good Friday, the arrest, trial, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ. On Holy Saturday, Jesus rested in the grave and on Easter Sunday, He resurrected. All these situations are represented through masses and either dramatizations with human actors or effigies in processions.

The last words Jesus Christ said before dying
The last words Jesus Christ said before dying

resurrection of Jesus Christ represented on a float
The resurrection of Jesus Christ represented on a float

The crucifixion of Jesus ChristOne of the most dramatic processions is the journey of Jesus to where He is crucified on the cross, where Roman soldiers’ actors perform flagellation and there is a representation of every person that was at the scene of Christ’s death. Some of the common characters seen in most processions are angels, the Virgin Mary, Mary Magdalene, the apostles, and others. These processions are sometimes even covered by local television stations.

Re-enactment of the crucifixion

Re-enactment of the burial of Christ

Because of how important Semana Santa (Holy Week) is, Thursday and Friday are official holidays on the Costa Rican calendar, and many government employees as well as all students enjoy the entire week off. Banks and businesses are closed during those days and public transportation is limited.

In addition, nearly a million Costa Ricans decide to take advantage of their time off work to go to the beach and enjoy the typical warm weather. During the whole week, the television stations play classic religious films like “Jesus of Nazareth”, “The Ten Commandments” and “The Passion of the Christ”.

Holy Week in Costa Rica would not be complete without eating miel de chiverre, a type of honey made from the watermelon-sized chiverre, a squash-like fruit in season during this time.

The chiverre

The famous empanadas de chiverre are a wrapped bread dish filled with the chiverre honey, which are mainly prepared during Holy Week.

The delicious empanadas de chiverre
Delicious empanadas de chiverre

Due to the Catholic practice of not eating meat on Fridays during Lent, the tradition is to eat seafood. That’s why other typical foods include fish soup, fried fish, rice with shrimp and several dishes with palm hearts. During this special holiday, a Dry Law is in place; so on Wednesday at midnight all bars and liquor stores close. Catholics are not supposed to drink during the mourning of Jesus, not until He has resurrected on Sunday.

No matter how Costa Ricans and visitors decide to spend these days, Holy Week is a very important holiday which manifests itself in all aspects of daily life from TV to transportation to work schedules, food and even alcohol sales. If you would like to visit Costa Rica, come during Holy Week, it will certainly be an unforgettable experience!

Read more:
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Hot cross buns – an Easter treat from the UK
Pass the Colcannon: St Patrick’s day in the USA

About the author

My name is Nuria Villalobos and I'm Costa Rican. I am a current professor of English as a Foreign Language at Universidad Nacional, Costa Rica, and a former ISEP (International Student Exchange Program) student in the United States. I speak Portuguese and I am currently studying the Teaching of Spanish as a Second Language. I'm passionate about languages, cultures, photography and meeting people from different places.