A Day of Celebration?: Independence Day Around the World

 This post was written and researched by World Affairs Council intern, Jill Fronk.

BBC Travel Slide Show

See more photos from this BBC Travel Slide show on Independence Days from around the world here.

Here in the United States, Independence Day is a time of reflection, national pride, and celebration.  It is a day marked by family grill outs, concerts, festivals, and evening fireworks.  Independence Day unites this country in patriotism as our cities deck themselves out in red, white, and blue.  But what about the rest of the world? Do they commemorate the day they joined the ranks of sovereign nations with joyful celebrations or is it simply another day?

Countries Who Celebrate the Day

South Sudan

The world’s newest country has its Independence Day on July 9.  This year will mark its third year of independence from Sudan in 2011.  For the South Sudanese people, it is a day to remember those who were lost in their long struggle to secede from their northern neighbor, as the memory of their loss is still fresh.  It is a day to remain hopeful of their future as they begin to face the harsh realities in creating a new nation.  As they contemplate these hopes and fears, the President addresses the nation on their current condition and the future hopes he has for South Sudan.

The official celebration is held in Juba, the nation’s capital, where there is dancing, singing, and prideful flag waving.  Throughout the nation, there are parties, prayer, and festive evening fireworks.

Cambodia

Having gained independence from France in 1953, Cambodia honors the day with joyful celebration every November 9.  The main festivities are centered on the Independence Monument where the King lights a Victory Fire with the country’s politicians, generals, and diplomats in attendance.  They hold a parade that goes down Norodom Boulevard towards the Monument while enjoying various streets foods such as beef skewers and papaya salad.  Each year a new big event is held.  In 2002, white pigeons and balloons were released into the air, while in 2004 a grand ceremony was put on to commemorate the day.  The homes proudly have their flag flying and cities bath themselves in blue and red—the nation’s colors.  The day ends in a spectacular show of fireworks.

Indonesia

Independence Day, or Hari Merdeka, observes Indonesia’s independence from the Netherlands in 1945.  Only the Dutch refused to accept their declaration of independence which led to four years of unrest and diplomatic meetings until Netherland accepted it in 1949.  It was not until 2005, that the Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia’s Independence Day as August 17, 1945.  Indonesians take great pride in their country with preparation for the day beginning weeks in advance.

  • Preparation begins with red and white decorations going up all over town with the words Dirgahayu Ri (Long Live Indonesia!) seen everywhere.
  • The city and neighborhoods clean up in preparation, or kerja bakti as the clean-up is called in Indonesia.
  • Political observers and social scientists write opinion pieces on the country’s progress since independence and challenges it will face in the future.
  • The day before the President gives the State of the Nation Address.
  • On the 17th, they have a flag hoisting ceremony that is held out of honor and respect to flag and country.  It is attended by the President, Vice President, military brass, families of the current and preceding president, diplomatic corps, and honored guests.
  • High school students are chosen for their marching skills to hoist the flag.
  • Neighborhoods have games and contests: Krupuk (shrimp eating contest), bike decorating, cooking contests for Krupuk and nasi tumpeng (cone of yellow rice).
  • The most popular game is pinjat pinang.  An Areca palm tree is erected in a public space greased with a mixture of clay and oil.  Prizes, such as bikes and TVs, are at the top for whoever reaches them.
  • The Sunday after Independence Day the President holds a parade of artistic floats and marching bands.

Countries Who See the Day Differently

Brazil

The World Cup host’s Independence Day is September 7 marking the day Brazil became independent from Portugal in 1822.  Brazil does not have as much fanfare about the day as the U.S. and other countries, but they do have fireworks in the evening.  They hold a military parade at the Eixo Monumental with similar parades at all of the state capitals.  They see the day more as a day to protest then to celebrate.  Last year, Brazilians used September 7th as a time to protest government corruption and excessive spending in preparation for the World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.

Brazil’s Independence is one of the few that is celebrated around the world.  In New York, Brazilian Day is held on September 1st for immigrants, Americans, and foreign visitors.  This celebrations includes eating native food, samba dancing, and drinking caipirinhas.  Similar festivities occur in San Diego, Toronto, Los Angeles, London, and other major cities in the world.

Afghanistan

August 19th commemorates the day the Treaty of Rawalpindi and Shah Amanullah Khan’s victory over the British Empire in 1919.  Afghanis used to celebrate their independence with a weeklong celebration called the Jashen Festival.  It included a Presidential address, military parades, concerts, food clubs set up by government ministries, and a display of the nation’s national costumes.  When the Taliban took control the day almost became forgotten because of their ruling policies.  Today, the celebrations are much smaller.  The government holds a small official ceremony with no speeches and a small military parade ending quickly with the President laying a wreath of flowers on the Minaret of Independence.  Youth forums and civils society organizations hold smaller festivities for local areas focusing on the Afghan flag.  Many people today still find great pride in their country, but feel that the day lacks any real meaning because of the large foreign presence in their country.  They do not feel as if they are a completely sovereign nation which is what they are supposed to be celebrating.

Russia

Russia does not really have an Independence Day in the typical sense, but a day when they moved towards a more open society.  June 12, 1990 marks Russia’s adoption of the Declaration of State Sovereignty from Soviet rule.  December 25, 1992, the Russian Federation adopted a new constitution and political system along with choosing June 12 as a national holiday.  In 2002, the name changed from Independence Day to Russia Day because the people were confused about what they were supposed to be independent from.  Russians celebrate by honoring all things Russian.

  • There is a grand military parade that recaptures the Soviet military parade of Revolution Day while the bands play songs that are an important part of Russia’s legacy.  Cavalrymen wear traditional uniforms prior to the Russian Revolution.
  • Some people wear traditional dress and take part in traditional dances and music.
  • There is a concert in the Red Square with fireworks at night.
  • Lubyanka Square holds a drift racing competition with drivers from Russia and abroad.
  • People have the opportunity to touch a two meter high “matryoshka” (Russian Nesting Doll) and see a kite performance.
  • Track and Field events are held outside the Kremlin.
  • President Vladimir Putin gives out “Russia medals” for achievements in science, humanities, and culture.
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One Comment on “A Day of Celebration?: Independence Day Around the World”

  1. Mandy says:

    Fascinating info – thanks!


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