The best day of the year to be a Chilean is on September 18, and one of the best times to visit Chile is right about then, too. Independence Day celebrations arrive in springtime, from September 18 to 19, usually spilling over into the closest weekend, and sometimes lasting the entire week.
The style of food, dance, and costumes are rooted in central Chile’s rural huaso (cowboy) traditions, and on the 18th, everyone is a little bit huaso, from the northernmost reaches of the Atacama Desert and to the southernmost reaches of Patagonia.
Festivities usually include dancing cueca, the national dance that beautifully and saucily interprets the mating rituals of rooster and hen. Traditional games include kite-flying, sack racing, and climbing a greased pole.
Chileans celebrate the 18th in outdoor carnivals known as fondas where traditional food reigns supreme. Be sure to try Chile’s signature culinary offering, the empanada: a baked pastry filled with beef, onions and cumin along with a hard-boiled egg and an olive. Or, try a delicious anticucho, a kabob-style skewer tracing its roots to the Quechua people in the north.
Alcoholic beverages are ever-present and all-creative during the festivities. Standbys like wine, pisco and beer are accompanied by home-brewed chicha, a sweet ferment made with grapes or apples, and pipeño, a very sweet white wine fermented in jugs. And every fonda is sure to be offering terremotos, an earth-shaking mix of pipeño, grenadine, and pineapple sorbet.
The biggest and most popular fonda in Santiago is held in Parque O’Higgins. Other popular fondas include the Yein Fonda (a pun on actress Jane Fonda thought up by the Chilean rock group, Los Tres) and the Fonda Guachaca, which celebrates popular urban culture or “guachaca.”
The day is not actually the date of Chilean independence; rather, it is the day of the First National Congress of the Chilean Government, when Chile began its journey towards independence from Spain, which actually came in 1818. Still, this fact may not be good chit-chat material on the 18th – instead, wait a day or two until the terremotos have run out.