I’m a Fiestas Patrias virgin but I love a party and I’m all for any excuse for a little vino tinto. Friends have told me that the parties around “Día de Independencia” are a much bigger deal than anything in the UK though and there are a few basic rules and cultural norms to take note of here in Chile.
Here’s a quick guide as related to me by my local buddies here in Santiago:
What is it? You may be corrected if you call it Independence Day; I’m told that while the parties do celebrate the beginning of independence from Spain it’s not independence day as such. 18 September marks the first assembly of the Chilean government, and 19 September pays homage to Chilean soldiers who have served their country throughout the years. (If you’re one of those dinner party bores you might like to know that actual independence from Spain took place on 12 February 1818…)
What happens? Parties galore set up shop across the city. On 19 September a large military parade takes place in the Parque O’Higgins. Parties, rodeo horse shows, typical folk dancing, including the ‘cueca’ dance and traditional food and drinks make up the festivities.
When is it? Confusingly, the fiestas are also referred to as ‘el dieciocho’ literally meaning the 18th, but actually referring to the general party period. Official public holidays are restricted to 18 and 19 September, but you can expect a long run up in the meantime. Our nursery is closing as of the Friday morning previous and I bet they’re not the only ones to close shop early. I’ve been told that the parties have already started in fact, with many fiestas already taking place in the parks across Santiago.
What is a fonda? What is a ramada? Fondas are large, decorated tents, serving traditional Chilean food and drinks. Top of the list are empanadas (for Brits among us they’re basically pimped up Cornish pasties). Ramadas are pop up locales, sort of shacks, where you can dance and sit down to eat. The events are set up in parks across Santiago with an entrance fee from around 5,000 to 15,000 CLP for adults and are generally free for kids under four.
What about gifts? Expect to be asked, quite bluntly, for gifts from everyone who works for you over the period. This means your nana (nanny / maid), pool guy, concierge, security staff, your kids’ teachers and so on. I’ve asked around and a week’s extra wages seems to be the going rate for a nana, while a bottle of wine or equivalent cash is typical for anyone else. While cash won’t be refused, supermarket gift cards are the most popular choice, espcially for nanas.
Wave your flag… or else. A friend told me that all private and public buildings are required by law to be decorated with a Chilean flag. Weird, but true.
Beware of the terremoto. Vino tinto, pisco sour… Chile has a proud heritage of making people regret what they did after one too many on a Friday night. Terremoto should be top of the warning list I’m told. It’s a lethal blend of pineapple ice cream and fermented wine. The names translates as ‘earthquake‘, which says enough I guess.
Bring the kids. I’m told that in 2017 over 200,000 people came to celebrate in Parque O’Higgins. Gosh. A friend visited with two kids and it was rather overwhelming apparently (too many people, too many drunks). The key to attending any fiesta with kids is to get there earlier I’m told. Local smaller celebrations are great for young children, and I’ve heard that the events at Parque Padre Hurtado are great too, but again get there early i.e. in the late morning. You can buy tickets in advance online here.
Are you a local? A lifelong gringa in Chile? Please, please, please share your Fiestas Patrias tips by posting a comment below.