Guatemala’s Independence Day is September 15. September 15 is also the Independence Day of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. On September 15, 1821, all of these countries declared independence from Spain. Unlike the US, Guatemala hasn’t spent the 190 years since celebrating its freedom. There have been many problems here including a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996. Even with all the problems, many Guatemalans are proud of their country and they all come together to celebrate Independence Day.
The celebration really starts on the 14th. Loren and I walked through town on the 14th, where many streets were blocked and there were very few cars on the roads. During the day many groups form to run through the streets with kazoos and Guatemalan flags to declare their Independence. We saw at least 5 of these groups in the little time we were in town.
The actual independence day has parades and bands. We didn’t go into town until about 5pm to see the big events. Ana and the two youngest kids went into town with us. Many people come together in the park, where there are street vendors selling all kinds of traditional Guatemalan food. There are also dozens of school bands and city bands playing in the park. They play everything from traditional songs to Lady Gaga. All of the bands march through the streets at the same time, so sometimes you can’t tell which songs belong to which groups, but it is really fun to watch. We got to see our friend Sofi playing in an alumni band for her school.
Finally, we walked to the cathedral where there were chairs set up and a podium for different speakers. We listened while everyone gathered to sing the national anthem and say the pledge of allegiance. There were also some speeches, but luckily they were short and to the point. It had been raining all day, and while we watched the bands, we were able to stand under the awning of a building, but while we were watching the speeches, we only had one umbrella for 5 people. Luckily it stopped raining just in time.
As we were walking away from the park, all of the bands started marching through the streets. We tried to find some people we knew that were playing, but didn’t see them. We watched a few bands walk by and listened to the music.
Then, since everyone in our group was born in the United States, we decided to be truly American and go for dinner at McDonalds.