Tuesday, November 20, 2012


Bolivia seems like it has fewer national public holidays in comparison to other countries, but there are many local and regional festivals that are throughout the year to make up for it.

New Year’s Day.  January 1.  At the stroke of midnight, many people – especially in the larger cities – gather in the streets to wish people “Happy New Year!” People will celebrate with baking special meals and sharing it with family and friends. Hotels and restaurants are often booked well in advance.

Fiesta de la Virgen de Candelaria.  February 2. A festival in honor of Mary, the mother of Jesus; it’s an important holiday for Catholics. The core of this festival is the dancing and musical performances that go on during the festival period. The festival itself is actually held for a couple of weeks. There are special masses held in honor of the festival, while costume-clad parades and festivities are held throughout the Andean communities.

Good Friday.  Varies. All businesses and schools are closed, though you may find a few businesses such as grocery stores open. No alcohol sales are allowed on this day. There are special masses held on this day as well. Many people participate in the tradition of eating fish (as their only meat) on Good Friday. Many people also attend special masses held on Holy Saturday as well; one tradition is to push five grains of wheat into some melted wax to symbolize the five wounds of Jesus after being crucified on the cross.

Easter.  Varies. Bolivians often start their Easter morning with a sunrise mass. The Paschal candle, a candle made of metal spikes similar to the spikes used in the crucifixion, is carried in through the main doors of the church and is used to light all the other candles. While it’s not a native tradition, the tradition of Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies are starting to be found in areas of Bolivia in recent years.

Labor Day.  May 1. Bolivians started celebrating Labor Day in 1906, and it was really important when the railroad industry became popular and the railroad unions and miners unions were being formed. The interesting thing is that most countries celebrate Labor Day on May 1 based on a labor dispute that went bad in Chicago, Illinois, USA (look up the Haymarket Riots) on that day. However, the US celebrates Labor Day on the first Monday in September, which is based on events that took place on that day in Canada.

Corpus Christi. Varies. Primarily celebrated by Catholic church. It’s basically a holiday surrounding the practice and belief that the body and blood of Jesus Christ is present at the Eucharist (or Holy Communion). At the end of the Mass that is held this day, there is a procession through the streets of the Blessed Sacrament.

Andean-Amazonic New Year.  June 21. Coordinating with their winter solstice, it’s also called Aymara New Year. The native societies here were based on agriculture, and their agricultural rituals were highly important to thank the gods, especially that of Pachamama (Mother Earth) and Inti (Father Sun). If you remember, the sun on the Argentinian flag is based on Inti. Every single business must close for this day. And if a business does work, it will be fined and must pay its workers double for their work. Wow.

Agrarian Reform Day.  August 2. In commemoration of the Agrarian Reform of 1953. This is basically the reform act that redistributed land so that the indigenous peoples of Bolivia could also have the opportunity to own land. This basically broke up the pre-colonial land organization that had been established for decades and centuries.

Independence Day.  August 6. This day celebrates Bolivia’s independence from Spain in 1825. Celebrations usually last two days, and there are parades, street festivals and dances, music, food, and cultural events. The flag is hung and the national colors decorate homes and businesses throughout the country.

All Saints Day.  November 1. This is the day in the Catholic religion that celebrates all the saints. Many saints have their own day, but this day celebrates all of the saints – like a catch-all for the ones not lucky enough to get their own day. It’s also a day in preparation to heading to the cemetery for the next day, called Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). People will use this day as a day to do maintenance on their family member’s graves and leave fresh flowers. There will also be vendors selling a special type of sweetbread called tantawawas. There will also be special masses held.

Christmas Day.  December 25. Christmas Eve is celebrated with family and is usually spent going to church services. These services start at midnight and usually go to the wee hours of the morning.  People will return home to open presents and share elaborate meals together.  Many families have the tradition of putting out nativity scenes. There is also a tradition that children put out shoes and stockings to receive gives from El Niño Jesus.

Up next: Art and Literature

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