Costa Rica

Traditions and customs of Costa Rica

What traditions and customs are there in Costa Rica?

We discover the customs and traditions of Costa Rica.


Food in daily life

Corn is consumed in the form of tortillas, which accompany rice and beans; They are normally eaten three times a day with eggs, cheese, meat or chicken and with chayote stew or salad for lunch or dinner. The midday meal was once the biggest, but the long lunch break has succumbed to the fast-food craze.

Beverages include coffee, sugary fruit drinks, and soft drinks. Alcohol consumption is high.

Food customs on ceremonial occasions

Savory snacks are served at parties and in bars and restaurants. Corn tamales are prepared by hand for Christmas. Other special occasions (birthdays, graduations, weddings) may call for a pig roast, an elaborate cake, or other treats.


The average age of Costa Ricans at their first union is twenty-one for women and twenty-four for men. Premarital sex, which is expected of men, has become more common among women. Divorce and separation are frequent.

Many upper-class men keep mistresses and second families. The National Child Welfare Board will garnish the wages of men who do not pay child support and prevent them from traveling abroad.


Costa Ricans consider themselves “cultured” and educated. Children, parents, and age peers are often addressed in the formal second person. Men greet each other with a handshake, while women greet friends and family with a kiss.

Dating and courtship, once highly ritualized, is moving closer to patterns in the United States. In restaurants and bars you socialize a lot. Malicious gossip is common and a source of both pleasure and apprehension.


Religious beliefs

Catholic heritage remains important in everyday language and culture. Christian is used as a synonym for “human being”. Even those who are not religious like to have a religious medallion or image of a saint on their cars or in their homes.

Costa Ricans demonstrate their Catholic faith primarily at baptisms, weddings, and funerals or during Holy Week and Saints’ Days. Although the official religion and a required subject in schools, Catholicism coexists with other supernatural beliefs such as spirits and spells, even among the most educated.

The main challenge facing Catholicism is the rise of evangelical Protestantism, which now claims the allegiance of more than a tenth of the population. Adherents report that participatory evangelical services are more satisfying than the Catholic liturgy. Converts generally abstain from alcohol and abide by strict codes of conduct.

Religious professionals

In the 1940s, the Church became involved in social reform. After the Civil War of 1948 and the defeat of the Catholic-Communist alliance, the Church abandoned activism. The wide scope of the welfare state meant that the Church did not have to be as concerned with social issues as its counterparts elsewhere.

Some priests participated in action campaigns among peasants and shantytowns, but most Church institutions remained conservative, and the Catholic hierarchy kept a low profile.

Rituals and sacred places

On the eve of the August 2 celebration for the national patron, Our Lady of the Angels, pilgrims from all over the country are fulfilling “promises” for their trek to the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels in Cartago.

Most churches sponsor celebrations of local saints, which are smaller and more secular compared to the national feast of Our Lady of the Angels.

Death and the afterlife

Catholics are typically buried after a church funeral. Wakes are held at the home of the deceased or at a funeral home. When a middle or upper class person dies, family members and associates publish condolence announcements in the newspapers. Masses are celebrated and rosaries recited at regular intervals after the event.

Secular celebrations

Secular celebrations occur at regular intervals – election days, soccer championships – and when a Costa Rican team or individual achieves international prominence. The festivities are marked by motorcades with flags and blasting horns.

Middle and upper class girls usually celebrate the fifteen years that mark their formal entry into society. Rodeos, with equestrian and bullfighting competitions, are held in many towns, sometimes on the occasion of religious celebrations.

The arts and humanities

Arts support

Beginning in the 1950s, the state provided extensive support for the arts and arts education, funding a National Symphony Orchestra and Youth Orchestra, a major publishing house, dance and theater companies, and several major museums, as well as offering awards and recognitions in numerous fields.

With the economic cuts that began in the 1980s, the budget of the Ministry of Culture collapsed, although many artistic institutions and artists have managed to survive through private donations, concerts or gallery sales, and tourist patronage.


At the beginning of the 20th century, Joaquín García Monge directed the literary magazine Repertorio Americano, which was widely read throughout Latin America.

The most prominent Costa Rican writers of the early 20th century, such as the novelists Carlos Luis Fallas, Joaquín Gutiérrez, Fabián Dobles and Luisa González, as well as more contemporary ones, such as the novelists Carmen Naranjo and Alfonso Chase and the poet Jorge Debravo, have focused in social protest as the main theme.

Political essays and biographies are also quite common, as they traditionally are, as is sentimental and regionalist fiction that evokes an idyllic and largely untroubled past.

Graphic arts

Costa Rica has little of the artisanal production so notable in Mexico or Guatemala. The “traditional” painted ox cart that appears in tourist shops actually dates to the early 20th century.

Graphic artists Francisco Amighetti, Manuel de la Cruz González and Margarita Berthau are some of those who have achieved an international following. Sculptor Francisco Zúñiga also has an international reputation, although he lived most of his life in Mexico and emphasizes Mexican themes in his work.

Performing arts

The world of Costa Rican theater expanded significantly in the 1970s with the arrival of exiled Argentine and Chilean actors, playwrights, and directors, who founded new theater companies that had a more contemporary and broader repertoire. Several small theater companies have significant public followings, as do the productions that run at major universities.

In addition to the small but vibrant classical music scene, there are several folk groups dedicated to Latin American “new song” and to recording and performing the country’s heritage of Caribbean calypso, Spanish -style peasant ballads, and labor songs.

American, Brazilian, and Cuban – influenced jazz combos enjoy a small but dedicated following. Modern dance has become popular since the 1970s, reflecting in part a breakdown of traditional inhibitions about displays of physicality and the body.

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