10 essential Fiestras Patrias traditions

Travel Coach Chile > Expats and local life > 10 essential Fiestras Patrias traditions

Last year, the global pandemic presented a major obstacle to the traditional Celebrations of Dieciocho! This year, let’s take advantage of some newly-recovered freedoms and the opportunity to reflect on the customs and traditions related to the fiestas patrias of Chile.

1. The flag

Chilean flag

If you’re currently living in Santiago, it’s impossible to miss: since the beginning of September, all buildings proudly display the Chilean flag. Whether spotted waving from your neighbors’ windows, flying outside the office, or embellishing the supermarket, decorations of blue, white, and red spring up across the country. From towels to sunglasses to garlands, any product is a canvas that displays the colors of the flag of Chile.

But Chileans don’t just do it out of patriotism. Did you know that there is a decree (Decreto Supremo n°1534) that dictates the protocol related to the display of the flag? The display of the flag is mandatory in all homes for 3 days a year: May 21, September 18, and September 19. Failure to comply carries a fine ranging from 40,000 to 200,000 Chilean pesos (more than $250 USD).

2. The fondas

fonda chili fiestas patrias

This is probably the most appropriate place to celebrate the fiestas patrias as they should be! Also called ramadas, these giant fairs are an opportunity to meet up with friends or family and experience the traditions with the rest of the community.

Organized all over the country, the fondas take place in a large open-air public space (such as a park), and are comprised of many small stands. The largest fondas, such as those of Parque O’Higgins or Parque Padre Hurtado, have different areas, distributed around the following themes:

  • Concerts
  • Dancing
  • Traditional games
  • Food and drinks (“Picadas”)
  • Horse shows

Among the most popular games: spinning tops, bilboquet, tug-of-war, and tin can toss, as well as more original entertainment such as pig racing or Rayuela (recognized as a national sport).

Pig racing, usually reserved for children, consists of smearing a piglet with fat after which players must run to try to catch it, in an outdoor yet enclosed space. This is a traditional game of southern Chile.

typical chili game
Source: soychile.cl

The Rayuela, meanwhile, is played standing, and consists of throwing a coin into a sandbox located on the ground, a few meters from the player. The goal is to hit the rope placed in the middle of the target.

rayuela typical chili game
Source: revistachilena.com
contest rayuela chili
Source: colina.cl

3. The Terremoto

terremoto typical chili cocktail

This is THE emblematic drink of Dieciocho! This cocktail is very popular in the center of the country. Its ingredients: pipeño, pineapple ice cream, and grenadine.

Pipeño is a traditional cheap Chilean wine. It is produced in the Chillan area a few hours south of Santiago. It is very sweet, has a short fermentation period, and is not made from a noble grape variety.

Here’s the recipe for terremotos if you’d like to try them out at home:

  • 170 oz. pipeño
  • 50 oz. pineapple ice cream
  • A dash of grenadine (to be served at the bottom of the glass or on ice)

4. The Cueca

cueca traditional dance chili

The cueca is the national dance of Chile. The interpretation of this folk dance is as follows: it is the ritual during which a rooster seduces a hen. In Spanish, this is called coqueteo. This dance has a few key steps, which must be danced in a specific order:

  • El paseo, when the man invites the woman to dance
  • The initial round, a kind of double 8 during which the couple tames each other without getting closer
  • The half-moon, which is the first approach
  • And finally, the iconic zapateo, the moment during which the dancers tap their feet in 8 steps

If all this has peaked your curiosity and made you want to give the cueca a shot, check out this short illustrated course.

Of course, the cueca is danced in traditional costume. The woman wears a Huasa dress, while the man is outfitted in his Huaso suit, consisting of at least boots, a poncho, and a hat.

5. Military Parade

Parade militaire chili septembre fiestas patrias
Source: La Tercera and Agencia Uno

The fiestas patrias is also the occasion of a military parade, organized with great pomp every September 19, the day of Las Glorias del Ejercito de Chile. In 2019, almost 8,000 soldiers marched through the streets of Santiago, from O’Higgins Park to the Escuela Militar de Las Condes.

The Air Force, Navy, Army, Police Academy, all branches of the state law enforcement are honored during this day.

6. Rodeo

media luna tradition chili rodeo Chilean huaso

This is one of the most controversial popular activities, although considered a national sport. The Chilean rodeo takes place in a half-moon arena in which two huasos mounted on their horses must try to lasso a calf or a cow. Normally, the animal participates in only one rodeo in its life, and this one can last less than 5 minutes.

The horses must be of Chilean origin, and the huasos must respect strict regulations (both regarding the rules of the game and their attire).

7. Gastronomy

fonda fiestas patrias chile

For foodies and gourmands who are reading, do not worry, we have not forgotten you! Truly, Dieciocho is a great opportunity to recognize the traditional Chilean dishes.

At the top of the list: the empanada de pino (recipe here). This empanada filled with meat, a slice of egg, and a black olive is among the most emblematic dishes of the country.

Another must-try snack of the September 18 festivities in Chile are the anticuchos, which are skewers of meat cooked on the barbecue. It is a treat for meat lovers.

Among the other dishes you must taste to discover traditional Chilean gastronomy during the fiestas patrias: the sopaipilla, the sanguche, the chorillana, the mote con huesillo, the completo, and the choripan.

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8. El Aguinaldo

bonus fiestas patrias aguinaldo

The aguinaldo is a small amount of money paid by an employer to their employees as a bonus for the national holiday. This is more of a tradition than a legal obligation, and some companies offer gift cards, while others choose to prepare gourmet baskets.

9. The Kite

Deer colant chili child tradition

Considered a traditional game, during the month of September the parks and squares are filled with kites of all kinds.

Since its arrival in Chile in the middle of the seventeenth century, the kite has become a part of the cultural heritage of Chile. It symbolizes the end of the winter rains and the passage to the blue skies of spring.

10. The Asado

typical chili barbecue
Source: comomegusta.cl

The “asado” (barbecue) in Chile is more than a tradition, it is a practiced art! While the traditional asado form of Cordero al Palo (lamb on a stick) in Patagonia is famous, it is organized in the form of a more classic barbecue in the central region of Chile.

From the barbecue, to the choice of the cut of meat, to the lighting of the fire and the position of the grill, every aspect of the parilla chilena has its habits and customs that each family is well-versed in. Let’s take a look at some rules for a perfect asado!

  • Lighting the fire

In Chile, do not even think about lighting a barbecue with a Zippo lighter. The “volcán” technique is preferred, which consists of surrounding a bottle of wine with rings of newspaper. Around this bottle, arrange the coal. Then remove the bottle and light the newspaper. This technique is guaranteed to light a fire quickly.

  • Cleaning the grill

Now that your fire is lit, you can start cleaning the grill well. To do this, let it heat on the fire. Then take an onion or lemon cut in half and rub it on the grill. This is the trick to getting rid of grease.

  • Spicing up the fire

One of the secrets of the best parrilleros is to put aromatic herbs directly in the charcoal!

  • Cooking

First of all, it is essential that your grill is already hot. Your meat must be at room temperature. So remember to take it out of the fridge before cooking it.

Another trick to succeed in your asado is to organize your grill well. In the back, arrange the elements that require the least amount of handling. Keep thinner and oilier pieces in front of you.

There you have it! We covered the 10 essential traditions of Chile’s national holiday on September 18th!

So, how will you celebrate Dieciocho this year? Tell us all about it in the comments!

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