Juan Santamaría Day
Juan Santamaría is remembered as a national hero in Costa Rica. The country had been threatened in 1856 by William Walker, an American imperialist who planned to use his mercenary army to conquer Central America and use its citizens for slave labor. Walker had already taken control of Nicaragua and organized a similar invasion of Costa Rica.
Santamaría, a 19-year-old drummer boy from the town of Alajeula, was part of the makeshift militia that fought Walker’s forces. On April 11, 1856, Santamaría volunteered for a dangerous assignment. There are conflicting stories about his actions, which either set fire to Walker’s fort or his ammunitions store. In any event, Santamaría was killed in the process, and Walker’s forces were eventually repelled.
Juan Santamaría Day is actually a week-long festival of parades, concerts, dancing, and marching bands throughout the country, with the biggest celebrations in Alajeula. The official holiday, when schools, government offices, and businesses are closed, is usually on April 11, the anniversary of Santamaría’s death. But the official date has been changed in recent years. If April 11 occurs during Easter week or on a weekend, the national holiday is celebrated on the closest Monday.
Embassy of Costa Rica
2114 S St. N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20008
202-234-2945 or 202-234-2946; fax: 202-265-4795