Although the Fourth of July may feel like a very American celebration, it represents a very worldly ideal, independence. All around the world, every month of the year, countries celebrate their sovereignty with flag-raising, parades, fireworks, and much more.
The process of gaining independence, and its celebration, is broadly defined. In various countries, such as the United States, Independence Day commemorates independent statehood gained over a former colonial power, such as Great Britain. In other states, such as Slovenia, Independence Day acknowledges a state’s break from being part of another nation or state, such as Yugoslavia. In rarer cases, Independence Day assumes the end of a military occupation, war, or another state’s control of a country’s foreign affairs.
Independence Day celebrations vary greatly in their celebrations, festivities, and traditions. In our Five for Friday series, we explore some cool, quirky, and unusual independence day celebrations worldwide.
Separation of church and state? Not on Greek Independence Day! Marking the start of the Greek War of Independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1821, March 25 is a double holiday, also celebrating the religious Feast of the Annunciation. An unusually festive day, it is celebrated with festivals and parades while dressed in traditional Greek costumes, waving the customary white and blue of the Greek nation.
Traditional Greek changing of the guard in front of parliament, Athens.
Photo courtesy of Paul Freifeld, MyShot.
A two-day event, Mexican Independence Day is NOT celebrated on Cinco de Mayo, as most Americans might imagine. It occurs on September 15 & 16, celebrating Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla‘s battle cry, starting the Mexican War of Independence in 1810. To celebrate, the Mexican president repeats Hidalgo’s cry and participates in a bell-ringing reenactment ceremony. “El Grito,” as it is known, is commemorated in traditional Mexican clothing, and appreciated with a variety of Mexican foods: antojitos, ponche, and guayabas, to name a few.
Boy celebrating Mexican Independence Day.
Photo courtesy of David Lawrence, MyShot.
A relatively recent independent country, Indonesians have not forgotten their struggle for independence. After the Japanese were forced to leave the island following WWII, the Dutch traders who had previously colonized the people returned, hoping to retake their colonial possession. Indonesians fought until 1949 to keep them away, and celebrate that feat to this day.
One of the more entertaining celebrations, Panjat Pinang, is a sight to behold. A clay and oil lathered palm trunk is erected in a public square, with prizes (such as bikes, TVs, etc.) hung atop it. Kids and adults alike attempt to reach the items by climbing the impossibly slippery pole. What a sight to behold!
Panjat Pinang, Indonesian Independence Day celebration.
Photo courtesy of Alfred Lilipaly, MyShot.
Can’t get enough of waving your red, white, and blue on the 4th of July? Head to France, where just ten days later, you can enjoy the celebrations all over again! The French celebrate with large parades on Bastille Day, waving their national colors in a frenzy. In one of the quirkiest traditions, the French president uses the Fourteenth of July to pardon petty offenders for their crimes against the state.
Eiffel Tower and Bastille Day fireworks, Paris.
Photo courtesy of David Jones, MyShot.
Celebrated on the day after its neighbor Pakistan (from whom it was separated), Independence Day of India involves flag hoisting around the country, most notably over the historic Red Fort. A patriotic day, to say the least, India’s national day involves much singing of the national anthem, as well as kite flying, a traditional hobby.
Flag-raising on Independence Day of India.
Photo courtesy of Ishita Bisht, MyShot.
— Justin Fisch for National Geographic Education