Sunday 25 September 2022

Today is April 11. We almost forgot.

April 11 is a national holiday in Costa Rica, Juan Santamaria Day

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With everyone focused on the coronavirus, the battle against the virus and the way of daily life, now with forced social distancing, can’t drive our cars, we, including yours truly, forgot about the battle of 164 years ago and the little drummer boy who gave his life so we could live ours.

Officially recognized as the national hero of the country, April 11 commemorates the little drummer boy in the Costa Rican army, Juan Santamaría (August 29, 1831 – April 12, 1856)

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Juan Santamaria Day is a national holiday in Costa Rica, held every April 11 to commemorate his death.

It is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed, though the closures this year are for a totally different reason.

Santamaria was a poor laborer and the illegitimate son of a single mother joined the army as a drummer boy, whom the troops nicknamed him “el erizo” (“the sea urchin”) on account of his spiked hair.

While others had tried and failed, Santamaria volunteered, in the Battle of Rivas, to set fire to a hostel to repel the advancement of U.S. filibuster William Walker’s attempt to conquer the other nations of Central America after overthrowing the government of Nicaragua.

According to the traditional account, his condition for volunteering was that in the event of his death, someone would look after his mother. Santamaria advanced and was mortally wounded by enemy fire on April 11,

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Various historians, however, have questioned whether the account is accurate and whether Santamaria died during that battle or another one. At any rate, towards the end of the 19th century, Costa Rican intellectuals and politicians seized on the war against Walker and on the figure of Santamaría for nationalist purposes.

Santamaría is honored by a statue in a park bearing his name in the central canton of Alajuela one block south of the central park, and by a museum that was a former garrison in the same city.

Two larger-than-life statues of Juan Santamaria are in Costa Rica: one in Alajuela and the other in the front of the Legislative Assembly in San Jose.

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The main international airport, the Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), is named after him.

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