It’s not Halloween — Here it’s the day of the masks

Some typical Costa Rican masks in action. Asociación Grupo Cultural Aserrí photo

A quick tour of local shopping centers shows that the celebration of Halloween is no longer foreign to Costa Ricans.

There is, however, a similar national tradition that is pure Tico, and that is the Día Nacional de la Mascarada.

The central government issued a decree in 1997 creating this day on Oct. 31 each year. The idea was to support the Costa Rican artists who make masks and to provide a traditional alternative to the U.S. version.

After all, Costa Rica has the Brujas de Escazú, La Segua, el Cadejos and a host of other scary characters. The witches of Escazú, the horse-faced damsel La Segua and the gigantic hound that is El Cadejos can hold their own with Frankenstein, Dracula and other U.S. and European creations.

The masks are something more. They have a wide range of subjects. During the political battle over the free trade treaty with the United States there even was an Óscar Arias Sánchez mask. Some of the masks have given names and have their own legends. Of course, there is the Devil and Death.

Mask making here certainly dates from the time before Europeans appeared. The native communities still have traditional figures, including the Diablitos and bulls of the Boruca peoples, although these last were inspired by the Spanish conquest.

In the colonial days and in previous centuries, the masks were created to honor Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles, the Costa Rican version of the Mother of Christ.

Cartago, Aserrí, Escazú and Barva are places where the mask tradition is in high gear. The Asociación Grupo Cultural Aserrí is getting a head start with a workshop on making masks Oct. 29, a Saturday.

That event will be at the Parque Zoológico y Jardín Botánico Nacional Simón Bolívar in north San José. The workshop is open to persons of any age, although there is an admission. Those interested are asked to register in advance at 2256-0012.

The typical Costa Rican mask is of giant proportions and usually is worn on a frame above the head so that the character is seven to eight feet tall. It is paraded to the tunes from a brassy Tico street band called a cimarrona. There will be a number of such parades Oct. 30 because Oct. 31 is a Monday.

The material of choice is papier-mâché, although wood, clay and even leather is used.

Many of the masks are heirlooms and works of art in themselves. They will be safeguarded in Costa Rican homes when the cheap, Chinese Halloween products are in the trash bin.

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