Faroles – the handmade lanterns meant to symbolize the 19th-century journey that brought the message of Central American independence to Costa Rica – were simple constructions, made of paper – like a red, white and black accordion with a candle inside. They are typically made in school during preparations for the civic festival to mark Costa Rica’s Independence Day on Sept. 15.
Today, faroles come in all shapes and sizes. Giant crests with the Costa Rican flag are highlighted by bright reflectors; there are elaborate “casitas típicas” (typical homes) and large oxcarts that are so heavy the lantern’s pole can barely support them.
The truth is that in Costa Rica, any excuse is a good one for mounting a “molote,” or large crowd, and as is the tradition, on the evening of Sept. 14 kids pour into the streets with their parents to light up the night with their lanterns.
¿Where lantern parades originate?
The best-known version of where lantern parades originated centers on a Guatemalan woman named María Dolores Bedoya. As the story goes, in the middle of the Central American independent movement, Bedoya ventured out into the night on Sept. 14, 1821 in what is now Antigua, Guatemala. With a lantern in hand, she called the residents of the town to meet in the plaza to rally for independence.
Since then, lanterns have become a traditional decoration to mark the events. After Costa Rica’s war of 1948, political leaders decided to revive the country’s “patriotic values,” and to promote the lantern parades, they asked teachers to motivate their communities to encourage lantern making and prizes for the prettiest lanterns.