September 15th, 1821 marks an important date in Costa Rican history, as the country becomes independent from Spain, along with Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua. “El dia de la Indepencia” is celebrated in all 5 countries as a public holiday. Administrations, banks, schools and many stores are closed on this holiday.
To mark the occasion, a relay race called “La Antorcha de la Indepencia” is organized in Central America. A torch is passed from hand to hand from Guatemala City to Cartago, the former capital of Costa Rica. The torch is carried by students from different regions of the 5 countries, chosen in advance by their schools. These are generally children and young people who stand out for their grades and academic achievements.
On the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica, the Ministers of Education of the two countries are responsible for the handover. It will then take 2 days to cover the 280 kilometers from the border to Cartago, a town south of San Jose.
When the torch arrives in Cartago, the national anthem, “Noble patria, tu hermosa bandera”, is sung. The massive parades will be led by students from educational centers, to teach them honor, values, patriotism and respect, and to introduce them to their country’s history.
What has now been a tradition for more than half a century began in the late 1950s, on the initiative of Professor Alfredo Cruz Bolaños, then supervisor of public education.
Between 1958 and 1964, Alfredo traveled to Central America, learning how Independence Day was celebrated in each of these countries. Thus was born the idea of launching a torchlight race across Central America, to publicize the history of its colonization.
Once again this year, all the country’s schoolchildren and high-school students, as well as citizens in general, are taking advantage of the national vacation. Lanterns, parades, brass bands and other cultural activities take place as part of the celebration of the 202nd anniversary of independence.