Latin American Independence Days
Several Hispanic countries, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Mexico, and Chile, have their Dia de la Independencia, or Independence Day, in the month of September. All of the countries touched upon in this article gained their independence from Spain in the early 1800s. Today, celebrations for their independence are very festive all-day events, consisting of parades, lots of food, and fireworks.
September 15, 1821 is a historically significant date for five Latin American countries: Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. All five of these countries were united under the rule of Spain at the time and had their capital city in Guatemala. In the early 1800s, Europe was already losing its grip on their territory in the Americas, as by this time the United States and Mexico had declared their independence. The Central American countries jumped on the bandwagon, and Spain didn’t put up much of a fight to their rebellion. On September 15th, the government declared in the capital of Guatemala City that the five countries were free from Spain’s rule.
The countries were first known as The Federal Republic of Central America, but they disbanded after more than a decade in 1839. That’s when each country become recognizable as the country it is today. However, they each still celebrate the day they were liberated from Spain as their Independence Day. A tradition common to all five countries is the running of the torch, or La Marcha de Antorchas. Beginning in Guatemala City, a torch is lit and then carried by foot as people participate in a relay over 350 km long. Many of the participants are children, specifically children that excel in school and have been chosen to carry the torch. The torch passes between children, towns, political leaders, and borders and eventually makes its way to Liberia, Costa Rica for a sunset ceremony. The traveling torch symbolizes the way the news of independence from the Spanish traveled from Guatemala to Costa Rica.
Celebrations in Costa Rica begin on the eve of September 15th. On the evening of the 14th, people all over Costa Rica gather to parade around their towns with homemade lanterns called faroles, as well as a traveling torch which represents how Costa Rica got news of their independence in the late evening on September 15, being the last of the five countries to receive the announcement. After celebrating on the 14th, the next day children in traditional attire fill the streets to participate in traditional dances in parades. School bands also perform and members of the military make parade appearances as well. Vendors and street food are everywhere, and the day is concluded with fireworks after the sun has set.
Similar celebrations occur in El Salvador. Schools begin preparing their students for performances in parades weeks, and sometimes even months, before September 15th. Long school days are followed by even longer rehearsals for bands, dancing, and singing. On the big day, parades take place in the daytime, accompanied by food and fireworks at night.
Guatemalan schools, government buildings, buses, and other public property is decorated with Guatemalan pride images in the days leading up to Independence Day. The national anthem is sung by children in schools all throughout the country. Another popular tradition is the military parade and air show performed for the President, which is broadcasted on TV. As natives and foreigners come together to participate and watch the celebrations of Independence Day, tourist areas flourish.
In Honduras, Independence Day is a time for the youth to come together and celebrate their country, where the celebrations take place over three days. Far in advance, schools eagerly prepare for the students’ musical performances. On the first day, September 13th, all the kindergarteners in the country have parades showcasing their routines. The second day is reserved for elementary school parades, and the third and final day, which falls on September 15th, is for high school parades. Honduran students tend to be very active and excited to participate in the parades, which are seen as a competition between age groups for which students can demonstrate the most patriotic, noteworthy, and spectacular parade.
Nicaraguans begin their celebrations as soon as September begins, with political leaders and school marching bands participating in an act of inauguration on September 1st. The torch is passed from Honduras to Nicaragua on the 11th and reaches Costa Rica by the 13th. The 15th is celebrated among parades, street food, and fireworks.
On September 16, 1810, Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla gave a speech to his supporters in the small town of Dolores, Mexico. The speech, known as Grito de Dolores or “Cry of Dolores”, talked about taking land back from Spaniards, equality among all races, and revolting against the Spanish government’s rigid rule in Mexico. This speech marked the beginning the Mexican War of Independence, which lasted over 11 years. Mexico was officially granted independence from Spain on August 24, 1821.
The anniversary of Hidalgo’s speech is celebrated as Mexico’s Independence Day. In the late evening of every September 15th, all throughout Mexico people gather to participate in a grito, where they yell “¡Viva Mexico!”. The following day, there is no school or work as people gather at plazas in their towns to eat tacos, watch parades, and celebrate all day.
Leaders from all over the Spanish-ruled territory of Chile gathered on September 18, 1810 to discuss the future of their home. At the time, Spain was in a bad place because the French had invaded their country. Some Chileans wanted complete independence, some wanted to remain under Spain, and others wanted temporary independence until Spain recovered. The group came to the decision of complete independence. The road to self rule was shaky as patriots and royalists fought each other for what they believed was best, but in the end Chile came through to become the country it is today.
Fiestas patrias, or national parties, similar to those on the 4th of July, happen throughout Chile and begin as soon as September starts. They can last for weeks, as the country hosts many different patriotic events all around the country. In the city of Antofagasta, thousands of kites fly in kite flying competitions. National rodeo championships and battle reenactments happen in the city of Rancagua. Each region of Chile has different activities ranging from religious ceremonies, equestrian events, dancing, cooking, parades, and lots of music.
Latin American Independence Day celebrations are a chance for people to proclaim their patriotism and love for their country. Traditional heritage has a chance to resurface amidst constantly evolving society. September is a month for people, young and old, to unite and celebrate the beautiful, diverse history of their country.