Happy Birthday, Chile!
When you cast your thoughts to the continent of Latin America what images are conjured up in your mind’s eye? Often we’ll think of a Samba spectacle complete with extravagant, brightly coloured costumes, or an exotic beach scene framed by coconut-filled palm trees. Indeed, some Latin America countries live up to these stereotypes, but what Chile had in store for me when I moved here just last month was something all together quite different.
Chile is known for being the most “European” amongst its Latin American counterparts, but the extent of what we learn about this long, thin nation in school is minimal to say the least. History classes tend to have a heavy focus on the Russian Tsars or the French Revolution, but Chile has never featured very high on the history-lesson hit list. So, Chile, what’s your story? I asked myself as a touched down in Santiago to be greeted by a temperature of just 5ºC (yes, it’s pretty chilly in Chile right now – perhaps one of the first things you wouldn’t have expected of a “tropical” Latin American country!)
My answer was to come in the shape of the “Fiesta Patrias” – a week of non-stop parties in aide of the anniversary of Chile’s independence, or, simply, Chile’s birthday celebrations! Chile signed for its independence on September 18th 1810 in the “Plaza de Armas” in the city of Concepción, which is coincidently where I am currently living and thus the perfect place from which to learn all about these historic celebrations.
These days, to celebrate the anniversary of the break from Spanish rule the Chileans go all out and the events are an expression of Chilean culture at its finest. Schools, universities and many businesses close for the week-long celebrations and up and down the country there are a host of “fondas” where traditional Chilean food and beverage are consumed; the star of the show being the delicious empanada (meat stuffed pastry). “Asados” (barbeques) are also strongly associated with these fun fiestas and meat sales rocket during this period to exceed 50 million Chilean Pesos!
In honour of the 18th there are a number of activities to help work off the extra calories consumed during these tasty traditional events. Chileans don traditional dress and dance “Cueca”, the national dance. Male and female dancers stomp, clap and wave their handkerchiefs, but, interestingly, never touch while always retaining eye-contact. Finally, a huge military parade takes place in the Parque O’Higgins in Santiago, overseen by the President of Chile, which showcases the glories of the Chilean Armed Forces and marks the grand finale of these wonderful celebrations.