In Costa Rica, Juan Santamaria Day is an official public holiday observed every 11 April to commemorate the heroic death of a drummer boy who helped preserve Costa Rican independence.
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The story begins with an American named William Walker who formed a private army of mercenaries and invaded Central America to establish a slave-holding, personal colonial empire. This odd venture had initial success, and Nicaragua fell to Walker’s forces. Walker then installed himself as “president” of Nicaragua and continued to threaten nearby countries, including Costa Rica.
When Costa Rica responded by invading Nicaragua to the north, Juan Santamaria joined the ranks of the expeditionary force as a mere drummer boy. His spiked hair earned him the nickname “porcupine.” But in the decisive Second Battle of Rivas, he carried a torch to set fire to the enemy stronghold and was shot down dead in the process. His heroic action turned the battle and the war in Costa Rica’s favor. He only requested his mother be cared for in return for his deed, should he die, and the government later honoured that request with a government-paid pension.
A colourful, boisterous parade is held annually in Alajuela, Costa Rica, the city of Santamaria’s birth, every April 11th, the day of his death. A statue of Santamaria in Central Park in Alajuela is also much visited. And there is another statue of him you can see in front of the Congressional building in San Jose.
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