Let’s Dance: Fiestas Patrias in Chile

Let’s Dance: Fiestas Patrias in Chile

Students from Los Cristales dance the cueca

I believe the term “Independence Day” is incorrect when used in Chile. Here, it would be more accurate to say “Independence Week” or even “Independence Month.” But hey, this inaccuracy is fine by me!

Chileans certainly know how to celebrate holidays, and Fiestas Patrias (Independence Day) is the biggest of them all! Once people realized that I was actually living in Chile and not just visiting, almost all instantly said, “Just wait for September! Just wait for Fiestas Patrias! You will love it!” and love it I did. If you truly want to experience Chilean culture and some fun, come visit during the week of September 18th! You will leave extremely full of good food and with a two-count beat in your head from the cueca.

Since you couldn’t celebrate Fiestas Patrias with us (this year), you will have to live vicariously through some pictures. But no worries! Fiestas Patrias is celebrated every year, and we have an extra bedroom waiting for just for you.

Here’s what you can expect to experience:
1. The Cueca

7th grade boys perform at La Tercera

Put on your dancing shoes and sharpen your non-Latino rhythm skills! The cueca is the national dance of Chile and it is literally EVERYWHERE during Fiestas Patrias. During September, there were several cueca competitions that our students were excited to participate in. My school also specifically had an entire day dedicated to the cueca. Every class (prekindergarten – 8th trade) dressed up and danced a cueca. Some teachers and even parents joined in! And if a day of cueca wasn’t enough, the teachers got together in a classroom after school that same day to play music and to dance some more. (However, I’m pretty sure some of them were just there to watch me try to learn)

The cueca isn’t just danced at schools. While out to eat for lunch, Chelsea was convinced to dance a cueca with one of the waiters at the restaurant. (She rocked it) Another day, we went over to a friend’s house for a delicious asado (barbecue). Before and after stuffing ourselves, the music was on and we danced the cueca. Later that night we went out with friends to hear some bands play. Everyone on the dance floor was dancing…you guessed it…the cueca!

Proud of his second place medal!
Proud of his second place medal!
Each class danced a cueca
Dancing for the Mayor
Even the Mayor danced!
Tradition clothing
Traditional clothing- check out those spurs!
Even the little ones dance … and put my dancing skills to shame
Teachers dancing together after school

2. Traditional Games

Take a break from playing bags when tailgating and try out some Chilean games! We had a something like a field day at school where all students and parents were able to play traditional Chilean games. Some you might recognize and others you should definitely try at your next get-together … like catch the chicken.

tirar la cuerda (tug-of-war)
Smiles for a day off to play games!
correr en saco (sack races)
Emboque: the goal is to get a wooden door-knob looking thing with a hole in it to land on a wooden stick
A 4th grader dedicated to preparing his trompo (wooden top)
Another trompo. The boys LOVE to decorate their trompos…and play with them in class
Not sure about the name but the goal was to hit the marbles with a marble!
Rayuela: a game like bags. Aim for the string!
Volantín: the entire school went to the field next door to fly kites!
Pillar el Pollo: My favorite! Release a chicken and watch the entire school try to catch it.

3. Traditional Food and Drink

Here’s a Chilean lesson for you. If someone offers you food, take it! Sharing food is a symbol of friendship. Chileans love to share and often will not take no for an answer. It’s delicious…just take it and say thank you!

It’s a good thing there’s so much dancing during Fiestas Patrias because there is a ton of food and drink to work off! We had a traditional food day at school when parents and classes each hosted a stall with a different food or drink. Sadly, I mostly forgot to take pictures when food was nearby, but at least I have a few.

Asado or Chilean barbecue. Cut the meat on the grill and pass it around!
Mate- delicious tea. The straw filters out the leaves as you drink.
Cooking up some anticuchos (cow heart)
Ready to demolish the anticuchos!
Beautiful moms helping out
Sopapilla – fried bread
These amazing women often call me over to the kitchen to share a snack. They make my day often!
Chicha – a fermented drink that is drunk out of a horn.
Somebody really enjoyed the chicha
A huaso (cowboy) with a chicha mule


4. Chilean History

Being a history nerd, I absolutely loved how much of Fiestas Patrias was focused on remembering and celebrating Chilean history. Apart from the traditional dance, clothes, games, and food, students learned about the different native peoples of Chile and their traditions. One day at school we had a history competition where students from different grades showed off their knowledge in front of the entire school! On another day, each class celebrated a different part of Chilean history through traditional songs, plays, or dances.

Prekinder students learned the cueca
Kinder boys in traditional clothing





Kinder acts out the wool making process

5. Parade or March

On a designated day, various groups and schools march to the Plaza de Armas to march past the gobernacion and the more important people of the government. Apart from schools, firefighters, army base members, huasos (cowboys) etc. join in. Jon and I had quite a shock when we passed a parade of huasos on horses on our morning run. They were headed to Linares for the parade.

On the Longavi parade day, my teachers went all out. They wore their finest and even had a makeshift beauty salon set up in one of the classrooms. (the teachers-assistants may or may not have demanded to do my hair) Students were also thrilled to participate as you can tell from the pictures. My school ended up marching behind Jon’s school. This proved very exciting for everyone we work with because they could see “the other Gross.” We definitely had a few stares.

Looking dapper










Like so many people told me it would be, Fiestas Patrias was a blast! Chileans love celebrating their heritage and sharing it with others. We both feel so blessed to be here and are happy to share our experiences with you all.


4 thoughts on “Let’s Dance: Fiestas Patrias in Chile

  1. Joyce Beglinger

    Thanks for sharing these interesting tidbits with us! It appears you are having a great time.
    Blessings Jon and Elise and Jennifer!

    Joyce Beglinger, CVA
    Volunteer Coordinator
    office 414-771-6848
    cell 414-378-9282


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