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Episode 58: Second 2021 Special - Chile's Fiestas Patrias!

Updated: Sep 21, 2021

Since this important holiday is about to be celebrated in Chile, I'm interrupting our normal routine to bring you the second special of the year! Today, we'll focus on Chile's Fiestas Patrias, also known as el dieciocho due to it being celebrated on Sept. 18th. I hope you enjoy this episode, and even try a few traditional Chilean recipes to celebrate the day, no matter where you are!


What is Fiestas Patrias?

Literally, fiestas patrias means "patriotic parties". This celebration of Chile's independence, culture, and country officially lasts for 2 days (Sept. 18th-19th), although the actual celebrations last about a week!

The History

Back in 1808, King Fernando VII of Spain was deposed by the French and replaced with Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon Bonaparte's older brother. But the Latin American colonies were not willing to go along with this. Thus, on September 18, 1810, about 500 people in Santiago got together for a cabildo abierto, or an open town meeting, where they accepted the resignation of the corrupt Chilean Governor, Francisco Antonio García Carrasco, and then formed a Junta de Gobierno (a military government) under the leadership of the interim Governor Mateo de Toro y Zambrano (who also happened to be in his 80's). The Junta pledged loyalty to King Fernando VII (just as the Junta in Buenos Aires, Argentina did). Interestingly, this wasn't the date of Chile declaring its independence from Spain, but rather the beginning of their journey to independence. For example, the following year, Chile created a National Congress (Congreso Nacional).

In May of 1814, when King Fernando VII regained his throne and ended the war with France, he began trying to retake control of the Spanish colonies. He succeeded somewhat by winning the Battle of Rancagua on October 2, 1814, which is sometimes called the end of the Patria Vieja (old country). Many patriot leaders left for Argentina, including Bernardo O'Higgins. On July 9, 1816, Argentina declared its independence and in January of 1817, General José de San Martín (of Argentina) crossed the Andes with his army, including O'Higgins, to free Chile and Peru. They defeated the royalists on February 12, 1817 at Chacabuco hill, and O'Higgins was declared the supreme director of Chile.

On February 12, 1818, one year later, Chile finally declared its independence.

Yet it wasn´t until the battle of Maipú on April 5, 1818 that the war for independence was finally won for Argentina, Peru and Chile.

How do they Celebrate?

There are parades and rodeos that highlight the traditional Chilean cowboy, or huaso. The rodeo has been Chile´s national sport since 1962. It is a little different than what you would expect here in the U.S. For example, a team of 2 huasos ride horses (colleras) around the arena while trying to properly steer a calf.

There are many ramadas, which are temporary buildings with a dance floor, tables for eating, and music. There are also many fondas, which are stands that sell different foods and drinks. And don't forget the street performers called chinchineros who play with a bass drum on their back and use their feet (via a rope) to play cymbals on top of the drum.

During Fiestas Patrias, many people wear traditional dress. The girls have a beautiful dress with rows of frills on a wide skirt that comes down to just above the knee, with a cinched waist, and the boys wear a poncho and sombrero.

*Image of a youth dance group (La Cueca), Santiago, Chile by Leonard G from Wikimedia Commons.

Here's a short clip of the activities!

Also, on September 19th, which is called Día de las Glorias del Ejército, or Day of the Glories of the Chilean Army, they have the Great Military Parade of Chile in Santiago´s O´Higgins Park, led by the Chilean Armed Forces. This day, Chileans remember and honor those who have fought to protect their country. Interestingly, there is an official holiday known as Navy Day (Día de las Glorias Navales) on May 21st, which commemorates the bravery of Captain Arturo Prat in the battle of Iquique on May 21, 1879. (I mistakenly forgot the "r" in Captain Arturo Prat's name in the original post. Thank you to gringomike for catching that! :) )

Comida (Food)

As with any celebration, food is key! There are many asados, or BBQs, and TONS of food! Seriously. The theme seems to be eating way too much food.

So here are some of the foods Chileans are very much enjoying on this day!

  • Empanada de piño - (let's face it, empanadas just in general are delicious!) an empanada filled with beef, onions, olives, hard-boiled eggs, and raisins. (Weird combination, right?) Piño comes from the Mapuche word "pirru," regarding the beef and onion mixture. I've made a version before that didn't have the hard-boiled eggs, but I would love to try this recipe by Marian Blazes from The Spruce Eats! Note: there seem to be two main ways to fold the empanadas. Marian's method makes the empanada look like a cool little packet. For the other method, which gives the empanada a fancy twist, check out this video by El Pastificio de Nicola!

  • Anticuchos - these are meat skewers

  • Choripan - chorizo sandwiches

  • Pastel de choclo - I know the name sounds like it would have chocolate in it, but alas, this is not the case. This is more of a corn pie...thing. To see what I can't really describe, check out the recipe at Or, if you want a more reliably authentic recipe, check out this video by Alvaro Barrientos Montero (bonus, you get to use your Spanish, as it's completely in Spanish!)

  • Sopaipillas - fried Andean squash and flour. Basically, you could call them squash fritters. These are different from the sopapillas we are familiar with in the U.S. I found two recipes that I really want to try - one from (one of my go-to places when I need a quick recipe!) and a food blog I just discovered, International Cuisine!

  • Sopaipillas pasadas - the sweet version, served with a sweet sauce. Here's a recipe I found from Directo al Panador - it looks delicious! Plus, it's in Spanish, so more practice for you! :)

Please let me know how they turn out, if you try any of these recipes. I personally am very excited to try them out!

And of course, there are also popular drinks, such as melon con vino, chicha, or terremotos (these alcoholic drinks apparently pack quite a punch, hence their name, which means earthquake).

Juegos (Games)

There are some cool games that people play during Fiestas Patrias, including kite flying (volantín). Apparently, it used to be a thing to use thread with powdered glass (hilo curado) to have kite battles, but this has since been made illegal due to injuries and accidents. What???!

Here are a few other cool, typical games for Fiestas Patrias:

  • Trompo - basically, tops. You spin your top and try to get it to spin the longest. You can also do battles where your top tries to hit another one.

  • Emboque - a toy that has a wooden hat-like thing attached to a stick via string. The goal is to toss the hat onto the stick with one hand. It's harder than it sounds!

  • Rayuela / Tejo- this game is a little bit like horse shoe in the U.S. You throw disks, from a distance, onto a marked out area or box of dirt with a string through the center. You get 2 points if you hit the string, 1 if you're close, and 0 for all other positions.

  • Palo encebado - basically, you grease a long wooden pole and people try to climb to the top!

  • Persecución del chancho - you grease a baby pig and let it loose in an enclosed area, letting a bunch of kids try to catch it.

If you want to see these in action, check out this video on YouTube!

Traditional Dance, La Cueca

La Cueca was officially made the country's national dance in 1979. It is danced as a couple, with the man initially offering his arm to the woman and the two of them then walking around in a circle. After this, the real dancing begins; they each have their own handkerchief (pañuelo) that they wave in different ways - including hitting the ground - and specific feet movements. Supposedly, the dance resembles the mating dance of a hen and a rooster. Personally, I can kind of see it, but only by stretching my imagination. :D

And, of course, if you would like to learn how to do this dance, here is a link to a fun class by Claudia Miranda and Felipe Basaez.

An interesting, more somber note: during the dictatorship by Augusto Pinochet, this dance was turned into a type of protest as people would dance la cueca by themselves, highlighting their missing partner as one of the many who disappeared under his control.

To wrap it up

Check out this video by Jon Gross on what Fiestas Patrias looks like for school children! It gives a good glimpse into food, games, and more!

*One note from the video. Jon mentioned that rodeos are illegal in the U.S.; this is not quite accurate. It's illegal in certain parts of the U.S., but there are many places where it is an important cultural tradition and continues to be celebrated today.

Remember, learning a language is a lifelong journey.

¡Aprovéchalo, Disfrútalo y Compártelo!



Intro and Closing Music by Master_Service from Fiverr

Cultural Tip Transition Music edited from song by JuliusH from Pixabay

Blog Photo by Leonard G. of a youth dance group (La Cueca), Santiago, Chile. Image taken Nov. 30, 2009, uploaded Jan. 18, 2010 to Wikimedia Commons, where I found the photo. Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

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2 commentaires

A mostly fun article on Fiestas Patrias. One correction: It is Arturo Pratt. (Not Pat.)

I visited Chile during the Eclipse of 2019 and noticed that every town I visited had a street named after him. I asked a local about him and her children broke out into song. Apparently he is venerated in the Chillean school system. (Altho as I understand it from history, he died early in battle before actually establishing himself. So he has been elevated to a martyr, deservedly or not.)

Another correction: Unlike the Communist dictator Fidel Castro, Pinochet saved Chile from the poverty of Communism. While I'm sure that there were abuses by people in power under Pinochet (just as there have been (and…

Sara Holmes
Sara Holmes
21 sept. 2021
En réponse à

Thank you! I've updated the blog and the podcast show notes. :) I figured that he was pretty important, but I had no idea he was so revered. That's really interesting!

Truthfully, I know very little about Chilean history, so I was intrigued by your post and did some more reading. Pinochet's legacy is quite more complicated than I originally thought. There's no denying that there were many terrible human rights abuses under Pinochet, with around 40,000 victims, including more than 3,000 disappearances/deaths. But Pinochet also did some things that really benefited Chile politically and economically later on. Granted, I've only read a little, but based on what he did to maintain power and control, I can't in good conscience…

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