Monday, October 01, 2007

Fiestas Patrias

It was said on the news that Chile has more feriados, or federal holidays, than any other country in South America. It is not uncommon to have at least one or two days a month where there is no work or school and everyone just takes the day off. No one second guesses this, just part of the culture. But then again, who would?

Knowing this, it wasn’t surprising when President Michelle Bachelet signed a law making the celebration for Fiestas Patrias, Chile’s Independence Day, a five day celebration this year instead of the usual two. Let me explain: Fiestas Patrias consists of two days, September 18 and September 19. September 18 commemorates the proclamation of the First Governing Body of Chile in 1810 and the beginning of the Chilean independence process. September 19 is known as “Army Day” or “Day of the Glories of the Chilean Army.” This year, September 18 was a Tuesday and September 19 was a Wednesday, leaving Monday in the middle of four days that can be used for celebrating (let’s not waste the weekends!). Thus, President Bachelet signed a law making Monday an official feriado this year, providing the Chilean people 5 days to celebrate the nation’s independence.

Not all Chileans celebrate Fiestas Patrias exactly the same and in Santiago, with 6 million people, there are plenty of options available. There are fondas, or carnivals/fairs complete with craft tents, live music, and lots of food. There are rodeos, kite flying competitions, and parades. There are concerts around the city and lessons to learn the national dance, the cueca. And regardless of where it is or what is going on, each day is filled with lots of food, beer, wine, and chicha (a very sweet Chilean version of sangria, made from fermented grapes and lots of sugar and fruit). For my first Fiestas Patrias, I was determined to take advantage of as many things as possible and celebrate each day to the fullest, having the ultimate Chilean experience.

For me, Fiestas Patrias ended up a 6 day celebration, starting with a carnival and barbecue with the kids at the orphanage I visit each week on Friday. Meeting up with other kids who live in orphanages around Santiago, the barbecue was complete with carnival games, kite flying, and a talent show. Many of the kids even dressed in traditional outfits and danced the cueca (shown in picture on right.) It was a great start to a long weekend that included: a picnic day and flying kites; a Chilean rodeo and horse show (picture on left); a walk around the city to view La Moneda (Chile’s White House) and other national monuments/buildings; a climb to the second largest hill in Santiago in order to get a view of the city’s skyline (me and Santiago below); and a military parade, complete with a spectacular fireworks finale.

As if everything listed above wasn’t enough, my friends and I decided to spend a day making empanadas. In the United States, we eat hamburgers and hotdogs for our Independence Day. In Chile, they eat anticuchos (steak kabobs) and empanadas (baked turnovers with a meat filling). The most traditional of all empanadas in Chile is the pino empanada, with a filling of thick sloppy-joe-like meat, a few raisins, a slice of boiled egg, and a pitted olive. We decided to focus primarily on the pino empanada, but also make a few with chicken and cheese, and a few with apple pie filling for dessert (we are from the U.S. after all). It was a lot of fun, but an awfully exhausting process that made me wonder why we are only charged $1.15-$1.50 when buying them at a restaurant. The work alone should raise the price. Either way, you can check out for yourself – Ryan made a fun video of the process and of us making the empanadas:

In the end, Fiestas Patrias was celebrated just as any national holiday should: with good friends, good food, and good times. The city is back to work now and so am least until the next feriado. :-) ¡Vive Chile!

As, as always, photos and videos courtesy of Ryan Greenberg and Natalie Nathan. Thank you so much!


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