10 Ways to Celebrate Guatemala’s Independence Day Like a Local
El Día de la Independencia de Guatemala, or Guatemala Independence Day, is one of the most festive holidays in this Central American country.
September 15, 2021 is the commemoration of the bicentennial of Guatemala Independence Day! Two hundred years have passed since Guatemala won its freedom and independence.
As a Guatemalan, the first time I understood what our independence as a country meant, I was 15 years old. On September 14 of that year, my family went to the plaza in Guatemala City that houses a small urn with an eternal flame.
Something so small is incredibly important to our independence celebrations. This long-held tradition brings together people from across the country. The flame is tiny yet powerful, just like Guatemalans when we work together.
Read this article to learn more about this (see #6) and 9 other ways to celebrate Guatemala Independence Day like a local!
10 Authentic Ways to Celebrate Guatemala Independence Day
Guatemala Independence Day is all about commemorating freedom. Here’s a list of 10 things you can do to celebrate this holiday like a local!
1. Buy flags (¡Compra banderas!)
When the Guatemalan flag has the coat of arms on it, it’s called a pabellón (pavilion) instead of a bandera (flag).
Houses and businesses display large Guatemala flags throughout September. For parades, many people buy small plastic flags and wave them around while marching, running, or just spectating.
Some people wear jerseys, shirts, or face paint with the Guatemalan flag’s colors: white and light blue.
2. Watch Marching Bands (Ver Bandas Escolares)
High school marching band parades are a major traditional Guatemala Independence Day activity. Many bands start to practice six to nine months in advance!
If you go to a Guatemala Independence Day parade, remember to bring an umbrella or raincoat! Typical September weather is sunny mornings and rainy afternoons.
3. Eat Typical Foods (Come Comida Típica)
Comida típica (traditional food) is another fun aspect of Independence Day! If you want to celebrate like a local, here are some foods to try:
Guatemalan tacos are also called tacos dorados. They are corn tortillas, rolled up and filled with a mix of meat and vegetables and then deep fried. Lots of people like to add salsa (tomato sauce), queso duro (hard cheese), and cilantro (coriander).
Tostadas are deep fried tortillas, topped with salsa, guacamole, or frijoles (beans). Add queso duro and cilantro for one of the most delicious and affordable foods in Guatemala.
Atol de Elote
El atol de elote is a corn-based hot beverage that many people drink to celebrate Independence Day. This is a must to try out when you’re in Guatemala in September!
Guatemalan tamales are a delicious, traditional food prepared with rice, corn, or potato masa (dough). They may have chicken, tomato, raisins, and other vegetables. This treat is perfect to share with friends and family. Tamales come wrapped in a banana leaf.
Los dulces típicos are traditional Guatemalan candies, perfect to share (or eat by yourself) with a cup of coffee or tea.
- Las canillitas de leche: soft and chewy sticks made with sweet condensed milk
- Rollitos de guayaba: Small rolls made with guava paste and sprinkled with sugar
- Bolitas de tamarindo: Balls of tamarind paste rolled in sugar
4. Cultural Activities (Actividades culturales)
Guatemala Independence Day celebrations include plays, lectures, and book readings.
Guatemalan oral tradition is rich. At Guatemala City’s Teatro Nacional (National Theater), actors dramatize traditional leyendas (legends) to commemorate Independence Day.
5. Build a Civic Altar (Construye un altar cívico)
An altar cívico (civic altar) is a small structure that displays civic symbols to honor Guatemala Independence Day.
When I was little, my mom let me borrow her traditional tablecloth to bring to school. I put it on my desk and then put uncooked beans, rice, and corn kernels on it. I added a map of Guatemala and photos of my favorite places in the country.
6. Run with the Independence Torch (Correr con la antorcha de Independencia)
This tradition takes place all around the country. Even if you don’t have a torch, community groups get together to run a few miles around the neighborhood in honor of Independence Day. This activity usually takes place on September 14 every year.
The organizations that do want to run with torches get together at the eternal flame in Plaza Obelisco in Guatemala City. They light the torches there and run with it to different parts of the country.
Anyone is welcome to run with the torch! You don’t have to be a fast runner or a super athlete. The only requirement is the motivation to run and be part of the celebration.
7. Watch the Flag Raising (Asistir a izar la bandera)
Izar la bandera means raise the flag and is one of the most solemn acts in Guatemala Independence Day celebrations.
In the last few days it also marks the beginning of the fiestas patrias (patriotic celebrations) and takes place in different plazas and parks in the different towns around the country. In Guatemala City the flag is raised on la Plaza de la Constitución, on September 14 around 6:00pm. The act is followed by music, marching bands and even cuetes (fireworks).
8. Fireworks (Los cuetes)
Speaking of fireworks, they’re a huge part of any celebration in Guatemala!
Guatemalans love fuegos artificiales (fireworks)! People usually get together to watch them and have a party.
Los cuetes are miniature explosives that people throw to make noise at celebrations. Some common types of cuetes include:
- La ametralladora (machine gun)
- El volcancito (little volcano)
- Las estrellitas (little stars)
9. Sing the National Anthem (Cantar el Himno Nacional)
The Americanist Society of Paris and the Society of Musicology of France recognize el Himno Nacional de Guatemala (Guatemala’s National Anthem) as the most original national anthem in Central America. Cuban poet José Joaquín Palma and with musical composition by Rafaél Alvarez Ovalle wrote it in 1897.
For Guatemalans, our national anthem is the most beautiful in the world and makes us proud. And you can feel that pride when singing it with dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of people on different occasions.
When an official act takes place to celebrate Guatemala Independence Day you have to sing the anthem. To do it respectfully, it is important to stand up, put your right hand over your heart, and sing with fervor and respect.
If you don’t know the anthem, that’s okay, just stand up respectfully and wait for it to end. Just like when the flag is raised, singing the anthem is a solemn moment.
10. Take a Road Trip (Ir de paseo)
September 15 is a national holiday in Guatemala! That means a lot of free time to spend with friends and family.
Some families use this date to visit their hometown, if they’ve moved away, while others use the holiday to go out and celebrate. In my family, we used to take road trips.
We would go to a park in the city to have a nice picnic. If we had time, we would go to Antigua Guatemala or Panajachel to spend the day sightseeing and making memories.
Let’s Celebrate Together!
It doesn’t matter how you decide to celebrate Guatemala Independence Day, if you do it with respect, we will always welcome you to the celebration. A great way to show respect, and something a lot of Guatemalans appreciate, is when our visitors learn Spanish! It removes the language barrier.
Being able to understand each other makes you feel more welcome and capable of communicating with the friendly locals. Plus, learning Spanish also helps your cognition and decision making abilities!
Sign up for a free class at Homeschool Spanish Academy to prepare for your trip to Guatemala. You are always welcome here! And since all of our teachers live in Guatemala, be sure to ask yours what they plan to do for Independence Day this year!
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