Traditional games to celebrate Chilean Independence Day

Climbing greasy poles and catching greasy pigs are just some of the ways to enjoy yourself and exercise your competitive spirit on Chile’s most important day.


Every year on September 18, Chileans come together for intimate family gatherings and massive parties (called fondas) to celebrate independence day.

As well as providing a great opportunity to learn the national dance, la cueca, or wash down an empanada with a glass of chicha, Chile’s national holiday is the perfect time to become familiar with some typical Chilean games.

Dating back to colonial times, these contests and activities reflect Chile’s rural huaso culture. While no longer a part of daily life, these games make a special appearance each year on Independence Day. While some, like tug-of-war, sack races and three-legged races might sound familiar, there are plenty of others with a distinct Chilean flavor.

Below, This Is Chile outlines some of the most common traditional Chilean games. So finish off that last empanada and prepare to compete.

Rayuela: To play this game, you stretch a length of white rope across a dirt playing field, hopefully with a somewhat muddy consistency. Contestants then line up about 33ft (10m) from the rope and begin to throw small metal cylinders, called tejos, into the mud or sand. The winner is the person whose tejo lands closest to the rope. Maximum points are awarded when the tejo lands on the rope itself but if it falls outside the boundaries, the player receives no points.

Palo ensebado (greasy pole): This game requires a tall pole covered in grease or soap with a prize, such as a chicken, a bottle of wine or a Chilean flag, fixed to the top. Contestants have to climb up the pole using only their arms and legs in an attempt to reach the prize. The game ends when someone succeeds.

El volantín (the kite): Throughout the windy months of spring, kite flying is a popular activity all over Chile. But on Independence Day, people often engage in a special type of competition. Competitors try to tangle the string of their kite around another until it cuts the cord, bringing down their opponent’s kite. In some areas, people used to attach tiny shards of broken glass to their kite’s string to gain an advantage, but this practice is now illegal (and quite dangerous).

Pillar el chancho (catch the pig): The aim of this game, usually played among children and teenagers, is to catch a young, sprightly pig that has been coated in grease or oil. The challenge usually takes place in a large but enclosed area such as a traditional Chilean rodeo ring. It continues until someone catches the pig.

El emboque: This old fashioned Chilean toy is made up of a wooden bell-shaped piece with a hole in the bottom, connected to a small wooden stick by a piece of string. The stick fits perfectly inside the hole at the bottom of the bell. A personal challenge, the purpose of this game is to flip the bell up into the air so that it lands on the stick.

El trompo (the top): In Chile, spinning tops are generally made out of wood and have a metal pivot. There are several games played on September 18 but the most popular involves a circle drawn on the ground. One player launches their top into the circle and then others join in, trying to hit the first top with theirs and knock it out of the circle. Traditionally the objective for contestants was to smash their opponents’ tops but modern tops are made of a softer wood, making them harder to break.