Visiting Costa Rica at the end of October? If you are in the right place at the right time, you just might experience the Costa Rican mask tradition- el día de la mascarada.
About Halloween In Costa Rica
I’ll never forget working as an English teacher in a tiny town outside of San Ramon, Alajuela in the early 2000s. The school was bilingual, and many teachers and parents wanted to celebrate a traditional American Halloween as a cultural experience -Halloween parties, trick or treating, the whole nine.
The old-school teachers were absolutely appalled at the idea- they were conservative and felt like Halloween was a Satanic holiday focused on gluttony and the worst of American values. Not to mention dangerous! Showing up at others’ houses unannounced? Blasphemy. 😂
While I found the whole thing hysterical and slightly offensive (I enjoy the way Halloween is celebrated here, and we definitely celebrate it in our family), this attitude is pretty reflective of Costa Rican Halloween.
Costa Rican Halloween is not a thing. It’s not a traditional holiday as we think of it in other parts of the world, but October 31 is a national cultural holiday in Costa Rica- it’s the day before All Saint’s Day (also known in parts of Mexico and Central America as el dia de los muertos) which is a Catholic holiday honoring the dead.
So what do we celebrate in Costa Rica on October 31st? Simple- it’s the dia de la mascarada (masquerade day).
Costa Rican Masks
Mascarada en Spanish means masked, and Costa Ricans recreate the indigenous masks worn by the Boruca tribe prior to the Spanish conquest.
Costa Rican masks are handmade from paper mache and painted with bright colors. The faces are exaggerated, much like the Boruca masks of the old days.
The masks are also really big- like oversized heads. They are three-dimensional and fit on top of your head, not like the masks that just cover your eyes (I’m thinking like the ones on a stick traditional to Mardi Gras, for example.)
Generally, a family will have one or two masks that everyone rotates wearing throughout a celebration- the masks are paired with light fabric tunics in bright colors, and completely disguise the identity of the wearer.
Masks are passed down over time, it’s not something that is remade every year. Most families make their own, but there are professional mask makers throughout the country for those who wish to purchase.
Related post: Traditional Costa Rican Ox Cart Paintings
Día de la Enmascarada
So what happens on October 31?
Simply put, extended families, friend groups, small towns, church groups get together for a party. There is traditional food such as arroz con pollo, gallos de picadillo de papa, homemade juices and sometimes even beer.
Musicians play lively music (the groups are called cimarronas) and people put on masks and dance. It’s traditional to start with the danza de los diablitos.
This dance consists of a reenactment of indigenous people dancing around a large bull, which represents the Spaniards. The celebration is a remembrance of the indigenous roots every Costa Rican has.
The party will often last long into the night and is a fun, multigenerational party. It’s a family celebration- not any debauchery or craziness. Just cultural fun!
Where To Celebrate In Costa Rica
If you happen to be in Costa Rica in the days surrounding October 31, you will most likely be able to find an enmascarada party. (note- the weather at this time of year is absolutely horrible, so many parties are indoors.)
Related post: Costa Rica Weather
Because these are small -own and family celebrations, you’ll need to ask a local about the celebrations near where you are staying and find out if it would be ok for you to join the party. Don’t just walk into one and start celebrating. Around San Jose, and especially in Barva de Heredia (they love this tradition there!) there will be larger celebrations in the public parks where everyone is welcome.
And you never know- you might find yourself wearing a mask!