Let’s Dance: Fiestas Patrias in Chile
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.