Juan Santamaría Day is a highly celebrated holiday in Costa Rica. It is held in commemoration of the victory in the Battle of Rivas in 1856 against the army of William Walker, a US citizen. William Walker had ambitions of cultivating a flourishing slave trading business in several Central American countries and was feeling very confident after his defeat of Nicaragua. He then set his attention to conquering Costa Rica as well. Upon seeing this developing threat, the Costa Rican government called upon its people to go to Nicaragua for combat.
Juan Santamaría was a destitute drummer boy of the army who volunteered to put an end to this threat and in turn, become a national hero. He was the one that set aflame the hostel that a group of Walker’s soldiers were residing in Nicaragua. This resulted in an excessive amount of deaths in Walker’s army. This act of bravery unfortunately also killed Juan Santamaría as well. He was fatally wounded by gunfire from the enemy.
Costa Rica gained its acknowledgment as a sovereign nation because of this heroic act from Santamaría. Costa Rica celebrates this historic day every year with parades and fireworks. It is a national holiday and schools and government agencies are closed to commemorate the day.
Costa Rica’s main airport is located in Alajuela (near San Jose) and is called the Juan Santamaría Airport which is named after their hero. Formal celebrations normally begin in Alajuela at the Juan Santamaría Park and consist of a fun parade, music and a speech from the President. There is also a statue in this park of Santamaría.