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Each Fourth of July, the United States drapes itself in red, white, and blue, marking the freedom wrested from England in 1776, following the American Revolution. There are 195 nations in the world today, each with its own flag and its own festivities to celebrate independence or foundation as a sovereign state. While many elements are similar — fireworks and parades are nearly universal — every nation adds its own unique flavor to mark the special day. Here are 15 of our favorite national day celebrations from around the globe.
Foundation Day, San Marino
The world’s oldest surviving republic is a mountainous microstate completely surrounded by Italy. Founded on September 3, 301 CE, San Marino is famed for its nine castles and the twisting roads that lure cyclists from around the world. The Sammarinese observe Foundation Day with a procession and feast honoring St. Marinus, the Croatian stonemason who escaped to these mountains to avoid persecution from the Emperor Diocletian. There’s also a crossbow demonstration, musical performances, and an enormous fireworks display.
La Fête Nationale, France
English speakers commonly refer to the 14th of July as “Bastille Day.” For the record, the French do not, and will happily correct you. While it is true that le 14 juillet is the anniversary of the storming of the Bastille, the national day celebrates the foundation of the new republic and “liberté, égalité, and fraternité” (“liberty, equality, and fraternity”). In Paris, Europe’s largest annual military parade dazzles with pomp and ceremony, while across the country citizens flood the streets with flags and sing “La Marseillaise,” the national anthem. Although there’s no traditional menu per se, a celebration of picnic food (pâté, cheese, baguette) is always popular.
Independence Day, Ghana
March 6, 1957, marks the day the first African nation gained its independence from the British empire — and Ghana celebrates that day in style. Riotous street (and beach) parties are held all over the West African country, complete with drumming, dancing, and highlife — Ghana’s unique popular music that fuses traditional elements with ska, swing, and jazz. After a day of dancing, refuel with a plate of jollof rice, fufu, and spicy chicken stew.
Independence Day, Mexico
First thing’s first: It’s not Cinco de Mayo! Mexicans celebrate their independence on September 16, commemorating the speech of Dolores parish priest Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla encouraging the revolt against Spain. Although the exact text of the speech is lost to history, millions gather on the evening before to hear the president of Mexico cry out, “Viva México! Viva la Independencia! Vivan los héroes!” (“Long live Mexico! Love live independence! Long live the heroes!”) Mexico City’s Zócalo, one of the largest squares in the world, overflows with flags, flowers, lights, horns, and confetti — all in celebratory green, red, and white. The fiesta carries on through the following day with music, dancing, and food, including pozole (a rich pork stew) and Chiles en Nogada, which carry the colors of the Mexican flag.
National Liberation Day of Korea, North Korea and South Korea
The nations of North and South Korea have more than a few disagreements, but celebrating the peninsula’s independence isn’t one of them. Both countries observe their freedom on August 15, the day in 1945 when the Japanese imperial army surrendered to Allied forces, ending 35 years of colonial rule. In South Korea, Gwangbokjeol (“the day the light returned”) is marked by songs, parades, and special pardons are issued by the government. In North Korea, massive military parades occur, and Chogukhaebangŭi nal (Liberation of the Fatherland Day) is an auspicious and popular day to schedule weddings.
National Day, Singapore
This tiny island nation said “so long” to Malaysia on August 9, 1965, and has prospered as a Southeast Asian economic powerhouse ever since. Modernized, multicultural, and extremely proud, the celebrations leading up to National Day last for weeks. It seems as if the entire country — from the futuristic airport to the stunning skyline — is draped in red and white flags. The parade is massive, with flyovers, skydivers, musical performances, and an unbelievable amount of fireworks. All attendees receive special “funpacks” with snacks, flags, and souvenirs to celebrate the holiday.
Independence Day, Ukraine
The former satellite of the Soviet Union celebrates its 30th year of sovereignty on August 24, 2021 — the day its Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1991. While no military equipment will be on display due to the conflict with Russia, the country will still revel in celebrations including parades, concerts, and fireworks. Celebrants will don vyshyvanka, traditional embroidered clothing, deck the streets with blue and yellow, and feast on national specialties such as succulent vareniki dumplings.
Hari Kemerdekaan, Indonesia
If shimmying up a greased palm tree to grab prizes sounds like your idea of fun, Indonesia’s independence day can guarantee a good time. The entire month is filled with festivities, but “the Seventeenth,” as locals refer to the holiday, marks the nation’s independence from the Dutch on August 17, 1945. Festivities include games like the aforementioned panjat pinang, where the struggle to scale the palm tree represents Indonesia’s battle to escape colonial rule, as well as light-hearted activities such as eating contests and costumed parades.
Las Fiestas Patrias, Peru
Some countries simply need more than one day to celebrate, so Peru packs two holidays back to back. July 28 (Feliz 28) commemorates the 1821 liberation from Spain led by José de San Martin, while the 29th marks the establishment of the Republic of Peru and celebrates the armed forces. The festivities actually start on the evening of the 27th, with music, fireworks, and a light show in downtown Lima. A High Mass and presidential speech kicks off the 28th, and every plaza in the country is filled with dancing and celebrations of Criollo culture.
Independence Day, India
After 200 years, India finally gained its independence from Great Britain on August 15th, 1947. India’s independence celebrations are a riot of color and joy. Kites symbolize freedom, and the skies are filled with them, particularly in the saffron and emerald shades of the Indian flag. But first, the official flag ceremony is broadcast from New Delhi’s Red Fort, and families gather to watch the solemn occasion. Then it’s time for fun, with concerts, parades, picnics, and jubilant parties around the entire country.
September 15, Central America
Five nations in Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica) achieved their independence from Spain on September 15, 1821, so they join together to celebrate in style. The pan-national festivities are illuminated by a torch that is lit in Guatemala on September 8 and carried through each country before arriving in Costa Rica on the 15th. Throughout all five countries, there are parades and celebrations, with food, music, military displays, and cultural performances. In Costa Rica, schoolchildren make homemade lanterns (faroles) and parade throughout the streets on independence eve.
Constitution Day, Norway
Denmark-Norway functioned as a dual monarchy until 1814, when Norway declared itself an independent kingdom on May 17 of that year. The anniversary celebrations in this Nordic nation place a focus on schoolchildren in particular, who parade and make stops at war memorials and senior homes. In Oslo, more than 100,000 people pass by the palace, exchanging waves with the royal family. Costumes and flags are in abundance, along with marching bands and kid-friendly treats such as ice cream and soda.
Freedom Day, South Africa
South Africa has several important dates in its national history — achieving independence from colonial rule in 1931 and establishing itself as a republic (under apartheid) in 1961. But April 27 is Freedom Day, honoring the first democratic election that was held in 1994 and elected President Nelson Mandela as the first leader with a true majority vote. Today, the holiday is celebrated with ceremonies and cultural performances. Many museums open without admission charges and visits to historical sites (like Robben Island, where Mandela was imprisoned) are popular, along with the South African barbecues known as braais.
Independence Day, Haiti
Haiti’s history is filled with firsts: the only state in history founded by formerly enslaved peoples, the first country in the world to abolish slavery, and the first sovereign country in Latin America and the Caribbean. After 12 brutal years of war with France, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (who later appointed himself Emperor Jacques I), declared Haiti an independent nation on January 1, 1804. Today, the capital of Port-au-Prince celebrates the New Year and the founding of the country with parades, dancing, and soup joumou, a rich beef and pumpkin stew.
Although it remains in the Commonwealth, the United States’ neighbor to the north staked its identity as a nation on July 1, 1867, when three separate British colonies (Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) were united into a single Dominion as “Canada.” Today the entire country celebrates Canada Day with fireworks, parades, maritime celebrations, and musical performances. Warmer summer weather ensures that family and friends will gather to celebrate with their favorite foods. From elk burgers to lobster rolls, the menus for Canada Day are as diverse as the country itself.