Holy Week, or Semana Santa in Spanish, is the week leading up to Easter and in Costa Rica is the biggest holiday of the year. According to Catholicism, Holy Week celebrates the last week of the Christ’s life before his crucifixion and resurrection.
For Semana Santa, Costa Ricans make a mass exodus from the city and head to the country’s coasts to enjoy some time on the beach with family and friends, eat picnics and often sit around bonfires and camp near the sand. In fact, some have guessed that nearly a million people leave the San Jose area and head to either the east or the west coast. Traditional foods, whether they’re being eaten at home or from a cooler at the beachside campsite, include sweet preserves, empanadas, arroz con leche (rice with milk), tamales, egg nog, quesadillas and special dishes with seafood.
All across the country, in small towns and in the cities, there are colorful religious processions in the streets in celebration of the holiday, including brightly painted oxcarts, prancing horses and decorated trucks.
The holiday is such an important one that most people in Costa Rica take the whole week off work, meaning most businesses close for the entire 7 days. The rest, including tour operators, restaurants and even banks, close for at least Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the end of the holiday.
Sometimes the government imposes a dry law over Semana Santa, banning liquor stores, grocery stores and restaurants from serving alcohol, although that situation seems to change from year to year. If the law is enacted, people flock to the shops in the days before Semana Santa to stock up for the occasion