Costa Rican Culture

by David Lovendahl

Culture is synonymous with variety as is the land of Costa Rica. And in this country touching on the topics of race, food, festivals, and customs just scratches the surface of how colorful the culture if this land is.

Costa Rica has a strong and efficient national education system, with its citizens maintaining a 95% literacy rate. Combine that with the strongest and most stable, democratic tradition in all of Central America and it molds the human character that has made the Costa Ricans a self-assured and hospitable bunch. That again is the outcome of the education system that makes it obligatory up to the sixth grade; for pursuing higher education, the National University and the University of Costa Rica has been made available to the public. However, the Costa Rican Government doesn’t believe in making a bookworm out of the people; therefore, a total of three symphonic orchestras and five autonomous state publishing houses are also considered a part of the education system.

Among the premier holidays, Easter and Semana Santa (the Holy Week) are the most prominent. It is the time when the Costa Ricans express their faith through street processions held every day for one week before Easter commences. Christmas celebration and New Year’s Eve also manifest a similar phenomenon. Among the most significant non-religious holidays, the Independence Day of Costa Rica rules supreme. The magic of the ceremony lies in the diverse formal official celebrations that vary greatly from town to town.

Musically speaking, the land of Costa Rica represents mostly the folklores that had originated at the northern part of the country and bears heavy Mayan influence in the form of tambito (a rhythm) while the genre of the music is known as Punto. Further classification reveals the Punto Guanacasteco (from Guanacaste Province) and the Punto Sancarleño (from San Carlos in Alajuela Province) as the sub-genres. The modern era has witnessed rock music taking center stage.

The cuisine of Costa Rica borrows flavors from different parts of the world, although some would say it lacks in terms of anything distinct or original. Costa Rican cuisine stands as a grand assortment of Spanish, Mexican, American, Caribbean and Southern American recipes like other Central American countries. However, it still retains the age-old flavors. Gallo Pinto (a combination of black beans and white rice) is considered the national dish, though Arroz con pollo or rice with chicken always gives it a run in terms of popularity. However, a broader view on the eating habits of the Costa Ricans reveals some important regional differences. While the Caribbean side has an affinity toward coconut oil, the north-western part of the country tends more toward corn products making large, cheese filled tortillas and other corn snacks the primary food for the region.