“What are your plans for the 18th?” “Are you ready for the 18th?” “I’m so excited for the 18th!”
People were exploding with excitement about THE 18th as I sat in confusion. All I thought was, “Can someone please clarify what in the world THE 18th is?”
Very quickly I was able to understand all of these phrases being thrown around among crowds of Chileans and the meaning of THE 18th.
During the week of September 18th, the streets of Valparaíso explode with Chilean flags, people dancing La Cueca (the national dance of Chile), massive amounts of grilled meat (“Asados”), and so much joy, as Chile celebrates its independence (similar to the 4th of July in the United States). However, it is not just a one-day celebration; rather the entire week is considered a holiday and everything closes, giving everyone the chance to celebrate. It is clearly known by every Chilean that THE 18th refers to the 18th of September, regardless of what time of year you mention the 18th. And I was blessed enough to experience THE 18th for myself.
“Fondas” or “Ramadas” (essentially what we know as fairs, but with way more food and way more people) take place every day of the week, and every hour of every day. There are rides, games, drinks, food, and hand-made crafts covering every centimeter of the space that has been designated for this crazy celebration. The micros (the city transportation) fill with people at every hour of every day hustling to these celebrations to simply enjoy time with family and friends, and of course, to dance La Cueca.
La Cueca is another sign that “fiestas patrias” (the week of celebration) has arrived. There is an insane amount of Cueca music being played in every place in Chile, as people dance the night away… and the day… because it’s really always a good time to dance La Cueca. All celebrations will incorporate some designated time and space to participate in this dance. I had the opportunity to learn La Cueca and participate in the Chilean celebration through this form of dance (which by the way, I did not do very well, because I wouldn’t consider myself a dancer haha). However, I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity to learn about and try to understand the Chilean culture and appreciate the things that they value and that are unique to them.
The smell of “asado” fills the air on every street of the city as families, friends, schools, churches, and any and every person gather in small groups to enjoy massive amounts of deliciously grilled meat. “Asados” are an important part of this week in Chile, as they create space for Chileans to converse, share, and enjoy time together.
The 18th will always have a deeper significance for me after this week in Chile, and for that I am very grateful! Viva Chile!
Fun fact about the 18th and 19th in Chile: There is a law that states that every house, business, and building must clearly hang the Chilean flag outside during these two days, and if they don’t, they can be fined. Chile takes this celebration very seriously and wants every person to take part and be involved.