“El Dieciocho” Chilean Independence Day = Fiestas Patrias

Chile-colored decorations and huasita dresses for little girls

Chile-colored decorations and huasita dresses for little girls

September 18, 2009: Chile celebrated the 199th anniversary of its declaration of independence and simultaneously kicked off its countdown to its Bicentennial.

Chileans take their Independence Day—September 18—very seriously.

The entire country pretty much shuts down for a week or so come mid-September. Independence Day is on the 18th (a Friday this year), and the 19th is also a legal holiday in honor of the military, but which most people just consider a “recovering from the 18th day). You might think that 2 days would be sufficient to celebrate—but you’d be very mistaken.

MST-2009-Sept18-Flag_12The first signs of National Pride Frenzy begin to appear in early September when all the flag-colored red-white-and-blue decorations go up and the first street vendors appear with little flags that drivers attach to insides and outsides of their cars. Store workers begin to wear their September uniforms and dress up as huasos and huasas. School children practice their traditional dances and shop windows fill up with traditional little flowered huasita dresses for the girls and little black suits and chupaya hats for the boys. Most people hang (rather than fly) the flag from their home. Flag display was mandatory during the military years and therefore fell out of favor for many years, but there seems to be an ever-increasing number of homes sporting flags these days as we creep ever closer to next year’s Bicentennial.

The weekend before the 18th kicks off the fonda season, during which the parks fill up with stands offering games, pony rides, music, dance, and plenty of traditional foods: empanadas, skewered meats (anticuchos), and choripanes (chorizo sausage sandwiches) and drinks, particularly chicha (a very sweet partially fermented grape almost-wine).
(For more about fondas see “Chile’s Fiestas Patrias: Fondas for September“.)

Overall production slows visibly the following Monday and declines steadily as the week wears on and the anticipation of the festivities gear up. Most companies close entirely at midday on the 17th—often for a company barbecue party.

Fiestas Patrias is a celebration of family, friends, food, and tradition as much as it is about national pride. It is also a celebration of spring, and the newly blue skies fill with kites, the backyard grills fire up, and the patio furniture gets dusted off.

We celebrated this year in the most traditional way possible: surrounded by good friends and family at a backyard asado (barbecue) that started in the early afternoon and lasted til nearly midnight…just like millions of other Chileans throughout the entire country.

Trompos (tops) are a traditional toy that require the skill passed on from generation to generation

Trompos (tops) are a traditional toy that require the skill passed on from generation to generation


It takes a while to get it right

It takes a while to get it right... (Critics!)

Choripanes (sausage from Chillán on a bun) come off the grill and are served with chicha while we wait for the real meal to be ready.

Choripan takes the edge off while waiting for the rest of the meat to finish cooking

Choripan takes the edge off while waiting for lunch

A special treat: slow-cooked lamb roasted in a traditional horno de barro (adobe oven)

A special treat: slow-cooked lamb roasted in a traditional horno de barro (adobe oven)

After an enormous (and delicious) meal of lamb, a wide assortment of salads, and plenty of red wine, it’s time for dessert:

Mote con Huesillo: a traditionally refreshing dessert of wheat and stewed dried peaches in their juice

Mote con Huesillo: a traditionally refreshing dessert of wheat and stewed dried peaches in their juice

Let the games begin!

Rayuela: Chile's answer to horse shoes

Rayuela: Chile's answer to horse shoes

Rayuela (the home version): the disc closest to the center of the string wins

Rayuela (the home version): the disc closest to the center of the string wins

As night falls, the lamb makes a reappearance–this time in sandwich form, we relax, chat, and then the dancing begins!


Cueca til you drop!

Happy 199th Birthday Chile!

35 responses to ““El Dieciocho” Chilean Independence Day = Fiestas Patrias

  1. Looks great! Especially the meat. I had plain yogurt for breakfast; yuk! I miss mote can huesillo. There used to be a fellow who sold it just off the Plaza de Armas many years ago; he was an institution. Alas, he is long gone.

  2. My Spanish teacher once asked me to translate Mote con Huesillo. I thought for a moment then told her.
    In Santa Cruz we also call it mote con huaso. As a non fan of most food Chilean this to me is one of the worst.
    Also those BBQs they do here! How much salt can be put on meat to completely dry it out and destroy all flavours. If you want a real BBQ try Argentina.
    I never understood July 4th in USA and have no real concept of September 18th in Chile. If you ever needed to fight for Independence, you really should not have to celebrate it.
    Maybe I am just a bitter and twisted Brit, but I felt I needed to comment.

  3. Aw Matt! You’re a killjoy, you are! The truth is, I’m not wild about mote con huesillo myself, but it’s certainly a favorite here… and I guess you’re just going to the wrong asados! True, most–but not all–Chileans seem to prefer their meat very well done… We’ll have to get you to one of Hernan’s super asados one of these days!
    And what’s this about not celebrating something you’ve fought hard for? Gotta disagree with you there amigo mío… If you work for it, you earn it; if you earn it, you have the right to celebrate it!

  4. Hi John- So now we have 1 vote in favor, 1 vote against mote con huesillo… There are still plenty of places you can find it on the streets, where people stand in line to buy it nice and cold for a refreshing treat on a hot summer days.

  5. Rayeula looks like a typical Chilean dish, something like “Chuck up khan” or the like.

    Cannot celebrate the 199th birthday as this country is so much older with pre Spanish languages and religions. If you win Independence from a country surely you should also lose that countries enforced language and beliefs? Not too many Afgans speaking Russian these days!
    Just my opinion and I’m sure to get some flak!

    However am interested in trying Hernans asadito, as I have been hearing for years how good they are

  6. What about “when in Rome” and “the glass is half full” and all that? Looks like you need to fill yours with tinto this morning!
    So you’re looking to get into the Old World vs New World debate now? And as any Spaniard will tell you, Chilean Spanish took a detour about 500 years ago or so!
    Hernán’s been talking about doing an asado at the castillo one of these days… that’ll turn anyone’s spirits around!

  7. well, let’s see. I do like a little mote con huesillo but only after a long, long bikeride or other exertion. Otherwise, I could do without the cup of sugar. And as I mentioned, I never know what to do with what to me is a drink when it comes in a bowl. But I can figure it out.

    And I don’t eat meat, so I don’t know how dry or overcooked the meat is, but it’s nice to warm your hands by the brasas when the meat’s off and the night cools down.

    I love the pic of the kid with his hand in motion and the bbq in the background. Looks like a fun time! I had a picture somewhere of a cat sleeping atop a box of tops, but can’t find it at the moment. I’m sure I wouldn’t be a natural at them, but maybe next year I’ll try to learn, even if the cueca lessons never come together!

  8. Eileen- yes, mote con huesillo is one of those odd things that’s sold like a drink (although it has wheat, which many foreigners mistake for barley) in it. I like the idea better than the outcome.
    About tops… one year we brought wooden tops back for all the guys in my family and no one under 70 had ever tried it. We all had a great time watching my husband trying to teach all the gringos in the family how to do it… and not one of them ever got the hang of it!

  9. Margret,

    Nice post. And you had lamb (!). I envy your friend’s horno—I want one. Mote con huesillo is a little puzzling to me too; sweet and bland, pleasant but unremarkable. I think it’s about history not taste: Chilean folklorist Oreste Plath wrote “Mote con huesillo is a refreshing drink and desert with chilenidad: for good reason they say ‘More Chilean than mote con huesillo’… “ Mote was an invention of the Mapuche, who cooked wheat using their recipe for corn hominy, and dried peaches were one of the few sweets available year round. I think mote con huesillos retains its popularity for the same reasons as (“more American than…”) apple pie.

    Best wishes – Jim

  10. Hi Jim! Yes, that oven is wonderful! If you’re really interested, I can give you the details on who made it for them.
    Thanks for the skinny on mote con huesillo… Oreste Plath was an incredibly interesting man and I am happy to say that I had the pleasure of knowing him!
    I’ve always heard “more Chilean than beans” (más chileno que los porotos)… but I like the mote con huesillos version!

  11. You had me until the mote con huesillo… never understood that–blech! I’d love a bite of that choripan about now though, I am starving.
    I also like that horno.

    I’d love to be in Chile for the 200th next year… we’ll see.

  12. Hi Annje- Hmmm- I’m beginning to see a continental divide on the mote con huesillo theme!
    Ok- so start your bicentennial campaign strategy now! It’d be great to see you here this time next year !

  13. I like the wheat part better than the peach, but the whole thing has its place in my heart, regardless. I agree that Annje and familia should get down here for the 200th. And fwiw, there’s a Bolivian drink that bears a striking resemblance to mote con huesillo, which I did not try what with the water and the no washing of the glasses in between clients.

  14. The wheat part (mote) makes a great salad when mixed with your favorite veggie ingredients and plenty of fresh Chilean olive oil and lemon juice!
    Don’t blame you on the glasses… in the past they used glass glasses on the streets and rinsed them out in a bucket between customers… PASS! Now they use disposable plastic glasses, which, while far less ecological, are certainly much more sanitary!

  15. Pingback: Chile’s Fiestas Patrias: Fondas for September « Cachando Chile: Reflections on Chilean Culture

  16. Chilean Independence was signed on February 12, 1818. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chilean_Declaration_of_Independence

    September 18 is the installation of the Government Junta of Chile http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Government_Junta_of_Chile_%281810%29

  17. Yes, the whole 1810 vs 1818 business gets to be quite confusing… but just as in Chile we have streets that are known by different names (try to find Av. Alameda or Av. Macul on the map) and celebrate “months” that last a day or “weeks” that last a weekend (mes de María = Dec 8 and Semana Santa = Easter weekend) of course we celebrate Independence 7 1/2 years before it really happened! But the celebration does, in fact, take place on Sept 18 and the bicentennial in 2010 (maybe we’ll do it again in 2018??)

  18. The flowered dress belongs not to huasa but to china. The normal partner of the huaso is the china, who is dressed with a flowered dress.

    There also exists huasa, who is dressed with a blouse and a long skirt. As the name implies, huasa is the female version of the huaso.

    Note that the correct spelling for the hat is “chupalla”, not “chupaya”.

  19. Uf… I didn’t want to get into explaining that a “china” has nothing to do with the country of the same name (more confusion!) but in fact it comes from Quechua and refers to a hard working servant woman. I associate the dress with rural women. The huasa outfit you speak of (very classy, by the way) is the female version of the male (huaso) “black tie” attire… in women it is a long, straight black skirt with a white blouse and a short black jacket and–thanks for the correction, I should have remembered that– black chupalla (pronounced chu-PI-ya). I have heard, but have not been able to confirm, that this outfit is not at all traditional, but rather a modern alternative for women that is certainly much classier than the flowery dress (that is very similar to a square dance dress in the US).
    Thanks for your comments and corrections!!

  20. I have a question about that dodgy flowery dress outfit they wear. Is that what you mean by “China” Here in Santa Cruz they call them “Chinitas” which is also what they call ladybirds (ladybugs to Yanks)
    Does “Chinita” mean literally little ” Chinese”?

  21. A woman from China is a “China” the same way a woman from Chile is a “Chilena”. The “ita” is a diminutive form that adds a sign of affection… so, in true David Bowie style… we’re talking about “my little China girl”…
    BUT, in Quechua (an Andean indigenous group from northern Chile, southern Perú & Bolivia) it means servant, which is how it entered Chilean Spanish in this context.
    Why the ladybug is called a chinita is beyond me! maybe their coloring reminded someone of the flowery dress? (just kidding)!

  22. I think “china” in Quechua is not a female servant, but any female. Real Academia says it’s “hembra, sirvienta”, but hembra (female) is not a synonym of sirvienta (servant). Wikcionario says it originally meant “animal female” (o is it “female animal”?)

    In consequence, I think chinita is a female bug (not a servant bug!)

    I also think that the “huasa elegante” outfit is modern. At least schoolgirls wear it as a Fiestas Patrias costume since probably 1990 and not before.

    I was told there is a male equivalent to china, which is “huaso pobre”: no spurs, cheap manta, chupalla instead of fancy black hat. Spanish Wikipedia also says he can wear ojotas and calls him “gañán”.

  23. Hmm- I wonder how we could find the real definition!
    In his book Chilenismos con historia Héctor Velis-Meza cites the RAE definition and goes on to say (though he does not cite a source) that in the Incan Empire the chinas were the young virgins responsible for keeping the sacred flame burning in the Temple of the Sun. He adds that once contact with the Spanish was made, the word was used to refer to young, single indigenous women and that today the “official dictionary” (which? RAE?) lists 12 definitions including: person with almond-shaped eyes, person with indigenous features, servant with indigenous roots, “gente del pueblo” (people from town? because people of the people just doesn’t sound right), girl, and descendant of mixed indigenous and black blood.

  24. Even Spanish speakers are confused about this one: it’s “mote con huesillos”, not “mote con huesillo”.


  25. I can think of two reasons for this: (1) Chileans tend to drop their “s”s and (2) I’ve never seen more than one huesillo per serving!

  26. Diccionario oficial for some people is Diccionario de la Real Academia Española (DRAE). A dictionary that doesn’t include carabinero (in the Chilean sense), huaso, or chilenidad.

    DRAE doesn’t have the sentence “gente del pueblo” but “persona del pueblo bajo”. Maybe Véliz Meza isn’t quoting literally. Therefore its meaning is actually “people from the people”.

    Regarding “mote con huesillo” I think explanation (1) is correct. At my mother’s I normally eat two pieces of huesillo with my mote con huesillos. Your explanation (2) reminds me of the guy who asked for “bean soup” and he got one-bean soup 🙂

  27. Thanks again for the explanation! I’ve never heard it called DRAE (just RAE), and no, Veliz Meza was not quoting literally.
    Love the “bean soup” story! But I still think only Moms hand out 2 huesillos! 😉

  28. It’s “la RAE” (the Royal Academy) and “el DRAE” (its dictionary).

    For example: “Tampoco tengo ninguna animadversión hacia el DRAE, ni hacia la RAE”. But many people say “el RAE”, as in “La palabra «kit» está aceptada en el RAE.”

  29. Ah! Very interesting… I figured it was el RAE when we are talking about the diccionario y la RAE when we are talking about the Academia.

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  33. im doing aproject on dieciocho and no on ein the world seems to know a good recipe to eat on that day!

  34. Pingback: Melibee Global: Your resource for International Education and Study Abroad News, Information, Resources and Advising | Family and Friendship in Chile

  35. El 18 de septiembre no es el Día de la Independencia de Chile, es el dia de la Primera Junta de Gobierno. Chile se independizó en 1818 el 12 de febrero.


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