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How to party like a Chilean for Fiestas Patrias!

Chileans love a good party, and at no time is this more evident than when they celebrate Independence Day!

Falling on the 18 and 19 of September, Chile’s “Fiestas Patrias” is a national celebratory affair, a multi-day extravaganza of grand parades, traditional food and drinks, music, dance, and partying!

Although the 18 and 19 are the official days for the festival (which is also collectively referred to as ‘dieciocho’), many businesses and schools take the whole week off, allowing people to travel to see friends and family to celebrate the holiday.

If you’ve made plans to come to Chile around Fiestas Patrias, here’s some tips on how to party with the best of them and have an epic time celebrating Chile’s independence!

La Moneda Palace - Santiago

1. Know your history - Before putting on your party hat and heading out for some crazy fun times, it’s a good idea to know what exactly you’re celebrating. The 18 of September, the official first day of Fiestas Patrias, actually doesn’t celebrate the day of Chilean independence from Spanish rule, but rather the day that the First Assembly of the Government gathered in 1810 and proclaimed Chile’s autonomy. What followed was eight years of war and conflict, with Chile finally gaining freedom in 1818. But Chileans have been honored Fiestas Patrias since 1811, the year after the proclamation.

The 19 of September marks the Day of the Glory of the Armies, honoring the military’s triumphant defeat of the Spanish under the leadership of Bernard O’Higgins, the liberator of Chile. The occasion is honored with a lavish military and naval parade.

Santiago cooking class

2. Eat your heart out - If you’re a foodie, Fiestas Patrias is one of the best times to feast on Chile’s diverse and sumptuous cuisine! Empanadas de pino - doughy savory pastries filled with chopped beef, sauted onion, raisins, a olive, and a hard-boiled egg - are plentiful, and are a hearty, stick-to-your-ribs way to fill up and absorb some of those devilish drinks! Add some delicious grilled meats from a nearby asado, and you’re good to go! Finish off the meal with tasty alfajores, breaded cookies stuck together with the Chilean version of caramel, manjar.

3. Grow a food baby at an asado - One of Chile’s most beloved culinary pastimes is a traditional asado, or barbecue. Similar to their Argentinian counterparts, Chileans love red meat, and are also fond of juicy sausages and hot dogs, such as the popular choripan combination of flame-roasted chorizo sausage stuffed into a toasted marraqueta bun. Anticuchos (skewers) of sausage cuts, chicken, beef, and onion slices can be found in juicy and delectable abundance, in addition to traditional cuts of chicken, beef, and sausages.

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By Eduardo Frei Ruiz Tagle - Flickr: ¡Celebramos el 18!, CC BY 2.0

4. Drink! Salud!  - We know what most people want to do at a party: drink! Chileans stock an excellent bar and put their best foot forward when it comes to beverages. The most popular concoction for this particular celebration is chicha, a sugary liqueur-type aperitif distilled from apples or grapes. Another favorite is melon con vino, wherein a chilled melon is hollowed out and filled with white wine and powdered sugar for a sticky-sweet elixir. One of Chile’s most formidable libations also comes out to play: the terremoto. This feisty mix of wine, fernet, and a dollop of ice cream is so named because if you’re not careful, it’ll “shake you up and make you fall over.” Wines, beers, and pisco round out the spread for one carousing week!

5. Go to different fondas - Finding the best parties during Fiestas Patrias is simple: just head to the nearest fonda! An iconic aspect of dieciocho, fondas are huge party tents or venues lavishly decorated with fluttering Chilean flags and other accoutrements. These make-shift party and dance halls - similar to what you would see at fairs - spring up all over the country, and are where most of the festivities take place. Many of the largest fondas are located around Santiago, with the Chilean president usually officially opening celebrations at one of the most famous and prominent fondas.

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Dancing at a Fonda. By Osmar Valdebenito - Flickr: Bailando en la fonda.

6. Learn to dance the cueca - Step into your dancing shoes and your best twirly skirt, and prepare to dance the cueca! Fashionably attired in traditional huaso (Chilean cowboy) style, men approach the women, adorned in charming dresses of bold colors and frilly lace with a wide skirt for spinning. Handkerchiefs in hand, the two circle each other on toe-tapping light feet in an artful choreography meant to be representative of the courtship between a rooster and a hen. Although the cueca may not be as sensual as other South American bailes like the tango and samba, it’s still a real treat both to dance and to watch. But if you try to learn it, be forewarned! The routine of footsteps is deceptively complicated (especially if you’ve been enjoying one too many terremotos or chichas)!

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By Osmar Valdebenito - originally posted to Flickr as Zapateao', CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7841146

7. Go to a rodeo - Besides soccer, rodeo is the most popular sport in Chile, and has been the official national sport since 1962. Taking place in crescent-shaped corrals known as medialunas, Chilean huasos showcase their skills in horseback riding, roping calves, and dancing cueca. The huasos also wear traditional garb, consisting of broad-rimming straw hats, flannel ponchos, and spur-heeled boots.

8. Wave that Chilean flag with pride! - It’s mandatory for all public buildings to hang the Chilean flag according to specific instructions, such as that the flag must be in perfect condition, and must be hung either from the front of a building (horizontally or vertically) or from a white flag pole. In addition, all the fondas are outfitted with flags and decorations of the traditional red, white, and blue colors, so don thee now your gay Fiestas Patrias apparel, buy a flag to wave, and join in!

9. Fly a kite - Let out your inner child, buy a paper kite from a vendor, and send it fluttering in the breeze! This aspect of Fiestas Patrias is very common for children, who sometimes make their own kites with colorful designs such as pop culture characters or the logo for their favorite futbol (soccer) team. Fun carnival-style rides and games are also popular, such as tug-of-war, sack races, and hopscotch.

Feliz Fiestas Patrias! Have a safe and fun time, Chile!