How to Celebrate las Fiestas Patrias in Chile
It’s Fiestas Patrias in Chile week! Chilean independence festivities take place all over the country for the entire month and they commemorate the declaration of Chilean independence, and, most importantly, celebrating Chile’s rich history, culture, and national identity with parades, festivals, parties, barbecues, music, dancing, food, drinks, and the list goes on.
There are two national holidays, the 18th commemorates the proclamation of the First National Governing Body of 1810, and marking the beginning of the Chilean independence process (ojo it is the declaration, not the real independence date!). The 19th is the Day of the Glories of the Army. These two days are national holidays, however if the 18th lands on a Tuesday, we get a ”sandwich” and Monday is a freebie holiday, meaning a five-day weekend. Amen to the sandwich law!
The country shuts down, as it does on Christmas, New Year’s, a few other holidays, so make sure to do whatever you need to do and gather enough booze, beef and bread before the holidays.
If you’re looking for some ideas, here are a couple typical things to do for el 18 (el dieciocho) or las Fiestas Patrias in Chile that you must experience at least once while you’re here during Chile’s favorite holiday – its birthday!
Go to an Asado
Chilean asados are an institution that accompanies almost any and every event, but most popular during las Fiestas Patrias. It is said that the average Chilean gains 5-7 kilos during this holiday from all the meat, empanadas, and alcoholic beverages.
It is typical to grill all types of meat cuts, mainly beef and pork, chorizos for Choripanes, and Anticuchos (a variety of meat on skewers), all with a side of Pebre (chopped tomatoes, onions, cilantro, olive oil, salt, and sometimes chili peppers).
Go to a Fonda & Ramada
Fondas and Ramadas are my favorite things about el dieciocho. Not only are they the central place where most of the food, dancing, and other activities take place, but some of them have themes catering to all tastes with funny names, like the ”la Yein Fonda” or ”X el chico no hay guaga”. Don’t be surprised if there’s a ramada hosting a drag show next to the ramada with punks and rockers watching a live band.
Fondas and Ramadas are easily noticeable with their thatched roofs made from tree branches reminiscent of the Chilean countryside. Although fondas and ramadas are widely used interchangeably, traditionally fondas mainly serve food and drinks while ramadas also feature floor, a stage for performances by local artist, and often have cover charges. Coquimbo’s Pampilla is the largest celebration, but Parque O’Higgins is the largest in Santiago.
Eat More Food: Empanadas
Almost everywhere you go, the scents of asados and empanadas fill the air. The most popular empanada is the mouthwatering Empanada de Pino / Empanada Chilena filled with minced meat, sautéed onions, a hard-boiled egg, an olive, and sometimes raisins.
Drink Wine, Chicha, & Terremotos
Wine, national beers, pisco, and everything in between are the choice drinks to pair with the immense amount of food. What steals the show is chicha, a sweet, distilled grape or apple based beverage that is almost exclusively drunk during the week. Melón con Vino (wine inside of a melon) is also a favorite, as well as the infamous terremoto (pipeño wine, a bit of fernet, and a scoop of pineapple ice cream), all sweet yet potent choices.
Watch, Learn, and Dance Cueca
Chile’s national folkloric dance is Cueca, and performances and competitions take place throughout the country. There are local variations, such as la Cueca Chora, la Cueca Brava, la Cueca Chilota, etc.
Symbolically, the dance alludes to the mating ritual between a rooster and chicken. The man tries to win the heart of his female companion with his stellar moves in a very flirtatious dance where they wave handkerchiefs in the air and stomp their feet. Here are some dance instruction videos in English and there are plenty of places where you can take lessons beforehand so you can show off your moves at the ramadas.
Fly a Kite and Play Traditional Games
It’s customary to either buy or make kites for children, and in some places you can see colorful designs dot the the skyline.
Although not so popular among the youth now, las Fiestas Patrias brings out all of Chile’s traditional games dating back to colonial times and countryside culture for fun and competition. Carnival-style rides, horse races, bowling, hopscotch, tug-of-war, sack and three-legged races, pole climbing, catching a pig, foosball, and spinning tops are all typical games for the young and old.
Go to Races in the Countryside
Not only would these activities be especially quaint in the countryside of Chile, el campo is home to some races that you don’t see too often in the city. Check out the la carerra de galgos, greyhound races, and la carerra a la chilena, bareback horseback riding race.
Go to a Rodeo
Although in recent years there has been some protest from animal rights groups leading to cancelling some events this year, the Chilean rodeo still represents part of the huaso culture and declared a national sport in 1962.
Rodeos take place in medialunas, a semi-circled arena where huasos (Chilean countrymen) also show off their horse riding skills and steer a cow and eventually pinning it. They also have cueca and musical performances and other horse riding competitions.
Huasos are an iconic example of rural Chile and the country’s past which has maintained traditions for centuries. Rancagua is most famous for this spectacle.
Listen to Payas
The sound of payeros on their guitars going back and forth with their clever rhyming verses (payas) is like watching the Chilean country version of a freestyle rap battle. Payas will have the crowd clapping, laughing, or blushing, (maybe even a mic drop?), here is an example:
Brindo dijo un huaso moderno,
con sombrero y celular,
porque puedo decir payas,
en una realidad virtual.
Brindo dijo un picaflor
por todo lo que he picao
de tanto que he picao
el pico se me ha gastao.
Events: Fiestas Patrias in Chile
Ready to celebrate? Check out these websites to find out where everything is going down: