If you don’t like holidays, Chile may not be for you. There are around a million. (Ok, not really.) They also have partial holidays for elections. Employers are required to give employees at least two hours off of work to go vote. Good thing they don’t live in Florida or Ohio.
New Years Day (January 1). New Year’s is a big deal in Chile. Many people will use this time to travel to the coastal cities. The city of Valparaíso is famous for its fireworks display at the stroke of midnight. People like to gather for New Year’s parties with lots of food and drinks to cheer in the new year. Chileans have several different traditions. Some people carry a suitcase at the stroke of midnight in hopes of travel opportunities for the coming year. Some people partake in the tradition of eating lentils and grapes.
Good Friday/Holy Saturday/Easter (varies). In Chile, people don’t eat meat except for fish for the entire weekend. There are church services held for Good Friday. Holy Saturday, like in the US, is more of a quiet day, when people are preparing for the Easter celebrations the next day. Easter Sunday, for most people, starts out with special services held at their church. The celebrations last all day with elaborate luncheons and dinner and family gatherings.
Labor Day (May 1). This day is a day off in honor of all of the workers of the world. In Chile, it’s a time to discuss job growth and labor issues. Most people enjoy the day resting or doing some kind of recreation.
Navy Day (May 21). This day commemorates the Battle of Iquique in 1879, which was part of the War of the Pacific. The day is also the day in which the president gives his State of the Nation address. Special programs are held in Santiago, Valparaíso, and Iquique.
St. Peter and St. Paul (June 21). This day is in honor of Saints Peter and Paul, and the martyrdom that took place in Rome. In Chile, these are the patron saints of fisherman, and the larger celebrations take place in Valparaíso and other cities along the coast.
Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16). The title Our Lady of Mount Carmel refers to Mary, mother of Jesus. She is the patrol saint of Chile. This is a relatively new holiday, established in 2007 in order to replace Corpus Christi (not the one in Texas. As far as I know, it’s still there.)
Assumption of Mary (August 15). This is the feast day that is associated with the ascension of Mary into heaven after she died.
National Holiday (September 18). This holiday commemorates the First Government Junta in 1810. It started just after Napoleon imprisoned King Ferdinand VII and was seen as the first move toward independence. In Chile, it’s called Fiestas Patrias, or sometimes called Dieciocho (“the 18th”). Because Army Day is the next day, many businesses and schools close for the entire week. It’s also a time for many cultural activities highlighting Chilean literature, arts, music, dance, theatre, cuisine, and traditional dress. Towns have festivals with parades and people gather for barbecues. Public buildings and towns decorate the streets with the national flag and colors.
Army Day (September 19). Treated like an Armed Forces Day, military parades are common throughout the country, the largest being in Santiago at the Parque O’Higgins, named after one of the founding fathers. The air force performs air shows as well.
Columbus Day (October 12). For many, Columbus Day commemorates his landing in the “new world” and is often claimed as the first European, even though we know that’s not true by any means. For the many natives in these areas that were wiped out from the Spanish conquistadors, it’s more of a day of mourning. That goes for the Mapuches as well – the largest indigenous peoples. In recent years, there have been protests toward more Mapuche rights and fairness. In many countries in Latin America, the holiday is refered to as Dia de la Raza (“day of the race” or “day of the [Hispanic] people”).
Reformation Day (October 31). It strikes me somewhat odd that Chile would celebrate Reformation Day when the vast majority of the country is Catholic. But they chose to do this for the growing number of Protestants in Chile. Growing up as a Lutheran, I’m quite familiar with what Reformation Day is. This was the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of the church at Wittenburg, Germany. It was basically a list of things he wanted the church to change. He never intended to break away from the church; his intention was to root itself on what the Bible was teaching.
All Saints Day (November 1). This is a traditionally Catholic holiday in honor of all the saints, especially those who do not have their own feast days.
Immaculate Conception (November 8). As a non-Catholic, this holiday is a little difficult to wrap my head around. But apparently, it’s in celebration of the conception of Jesus in the Virgin Mary. It takes place nine months before the Nativity of Mary, which is held on September 8.
Christmas Day (December 25). Like other countries, Chilean cities and towns become very busy as the shopping season commences. People decorate their homes, and families spend time with each other sharing large meals, and of course presents. Many families open their presents at midnight, early Christmas morning. A lot of the traditions we do in the US are also found in Chile: Santa in the reindeer-drawn sleigh coming down the chimney, Christmas cards, carols, Christmas movies and cartoons, etc.
Banking holiday (December 31). Banks and other businesses in the financial industry are closed on this day. Other people still have to show up to work, but certain businesses may choose to have shortened work days.
Up next: art and literature