Lands of the free: Independence days around the world

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On  July 4, we celebrate Independence Day in the United States. Many Americans will spend the day barbecuing, basking in the summer sun and enjoying firework displays — traditions that have come to define the Fourth of July holiday. But have you ever wondered about how other nations celebrate their independence? Well, here are a few examples from around the world.

Mexico

Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s Independence Day. Mexico celebrates liberation from Spain on Sept. 16, the day in 1810 that sparked the country’s movement for independence. On that day 209 years ago, Catholic priest Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla made a stirring speech, now known as the Cry of Dolores, that advocated for an end to oppressive Spanish rule. After the speech, Hidalgo led a march under the banner of Mexico’s patron saint, Our Lady of Guadalupe, which attracted thousands of followers. Every year, Mexico celebrates this momentous day with traditional Mexican food, music and dancing under fireworks. Mexico’s Día de la Independencia is also celebrated with an annual reenactment of the Cry of Dolores by Mexico’s president.

India

India commemorates its independence from British rule on Aug. 15 each year. Though India didn’t officially gain freedom until 1947, an Indian Independence Day has been celebrated since 1929, the year the Indian National Congress first drafted the Declaration of the Independence of India. After India’s liberation, Independence Day was moved from Jan. 26 (now known as Republic Day) to Aug. 15. This date is the anniversary of India’s first prime minister raising the national flag above Lahori Gate in 1947. Today, Indians celebrate by adorning government buildings with lights, holding flag-raising ceremonies, flying patriotic kites and listening to a national address from the prime minister. 

Indonesia

The Netherlands colonized Indonesia for more than 300 years before the nation claimed its independence in 1945. Indonesians celebrate Independence Day on Aug. 17, the day in 1945 on which the Proclamation of Indonesian Independence was published. Each year, a national ceremony is held at the presidential palace, at which the proclamation is read aloud and the country’s flag is hoisted high. Indonesians in smaller cities and villages celebrate the day with a competitive spirit; people of all ages participate in games like tarik tambang (tug of war), karung goni (sack races) and panjat pinang, which is a pole-climbing race to a prize at the top.

Norway

Norway celebrates its independence on May 17, the day on which its constitution was signed in 1814. Once part of Denmark, Norway declared itself a free nation in order to avoid being absorbed into Sweden after the Scandinavian nations were hit hard in the Napoleonic wars. Norwegians celebrate Constitution Day in a uniquely nonmilitaristic way, with wholesome events including children’s parades and ice cream-eating contests. Many Norwegians also bust out their traditional clothing, or bunad, on May 17 to celebrate Norwegian culture and tradition. 

This short list of independence days around the world reminds us that every nation has its own unique traditions, and many have their own histories of liberation. As we celebrate the Fourth of July, take some time to remember the origins of our own Independence Day!

Contact Margo Salah at [email protected].