As Friday was a national holiday in Costa Rica, we thought we would give you a brief run-down of what to know about Juan Santamaria Day and the Battle of Rivas.
1) Some Background Info: April 11th, also known as Juan Santamaria Day, marks the Second Battle of Rivas, and is a mandatory paid holiday in Costa Rica. The Second battle of Rivas occured on April 11th, 1856, between the Costa Rican militia (under the command of General Mora) and the Nicaraguan forces of William Walker, an American filibuster who had declared himself president of Nicaragua that year. Walker’s plan was to conquer Central America and enslave the population. Costa Ricans fought back against the attempt, and the country’s only military hero was born.
2) Who is Juan Santamaria: Juan Santamaria was a poor drummer boy from the province of Alajuela who volunteered for Costa Rica’s militia when the fighting broke out.
3) What Went Down: Legend has it that at the Second Battle of Rivas, Costa Rica’s commanding officer asked for a volunteer to burn down the hostel where Walker’s men were staying. Many soldiers tried and failed. So, Juan Santamaria volunteered. He was just a boy and the illegitimate son of a poor single mother. He volunteered under the singular condition that if he died, someone would look after his mother. Torch in hand, Santamaria advanced through enemy fire toward the hostel. Though he was mortally wounded, he succeeded in reaching the hostel and burning it down before his untimely death. This led to Costa Rica’s victory at the battle.
4) Aftermath: Whether or not you believe the story, Juan Santamaria is now a national legend. On April 11th all government buildings close, and citizens receive a day off with regular pay. Santamaria’s act of heroism (which confirms CR’s sovereignty) is commemorated on this day by parades, civic programs and fireworks. Additionally, anybody who has ever flown into San Jose knows that Costa Rica’s main airport is called Juan Santamaria International Airport. Statues of Juan Santamaria can be found at the airport, the park that shares his name in Alajuela and before the Congress in San Jose.
5) The Whole Point: Legend or not, the story of Juan Santamaria lives on in the hearts of Costa Rican’s and is a part of the national identity. They cherish the heroic memory of the young, lower class boy who sacrificed himself to save his country from slavery while thinking only of his mother. What matters most in the end is that Juan Santamaria represents courage, fidelity, and loyalty and devotion to one’s country and people.