One of the small oddities of being an ex-pat is that you never know when the public holidays will turn up, so you find yourself with unexpected long weekends. When I moved to Vancouver, I only found out that a holiday was coming if a colleague or two asked me what I was doing for the long weekend. The downside is that you don’t get to plan weekend trips; the upside is the pleasure of surprise and spontaneity. Work felt a little less oppressively structured when a day off could turn up at any time. I didn’t ever learn when the Canadian holidays were because I didn’t want to lose that small sense of the unexpected in my work life.
Costa Rica’s public holidays are even more difficult to keep up with. They bear no relation to the familiar commonwealth holidays celebrated in New Zealand and Canada. Instead they’re based on the religious calendar. The country shuts down for a week (Semana Santa) around Easter, as well as for various saints’ days. Mother’s Day is also a holiday. And, because of their religious significance in a devoutly Catholic country, public holidays aren’t simply carefully-spaced days off work, they’re mass celebrations. For example, thousands of people walk from San Jose to Cartago (which is a non-trivial distance) in honour of the Virgin of Los Angeles, Cartago, the Patroness of Costa Rica. I never quite knew what was going on, but it was always fascinating.
And now here we are in New Zealand, and the public holidays, or at least the ones specific to Wellington, are still unexpected. One of Travis’s colleagues mentioned mid-week that this Monday was a holiday – no one else in the group (which consisted of a couple of South Americans, a Spaniard, a Canadian, and the local guy) had any idea until he told them. And neither did I, even though I’m from around these parts. I don’t think there will be any other holiday surprises through the year, but I’d be delighted if there were.
It is odd though, to be sufficiently removed from my own country, that I don’t know when or what the public holidays are. I’ve been back in New Zealand for two years now, but I’m still living at a slight slant to the real local locals. My accent is a little weird – I have ‘r’ sounds where no ‘r’ sounds should be, and my vowels have flattened out. My frame of reference is a little off – I compare things to Vancouver or San Jose, not other parts of New Zealand. And my knowledge of life here has a decade-long hole in it. I’m a beginner here again and I get to look at New Zealand from a distance, which is a fascinating and educational, if somewhat dislocating, experience.