On July 2nd, 1776 the Continental Congress unanimously voted in favor of independence from Great Britain. On July 4th, they adopted the Declaration of Independence, asserting that the Thirteen Colonies were now independent states which formed the US. During the first organized 4th of July celebration in 1777, a ship’s cannon fired a 13-gun salute to signify the 13 colonies, and the Pennsylvania Post reported that “at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks…on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.”
Today, the Fourth of July is celebrated in much the same way—with family and friends watching an extravagant display of fireworks at night. It is a day when we can contemplate our country’s complex history and reflect on how we can better uphold the rights of all people, a promise that was penned many years ago: "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness".
Similarly to Americans, many other countries celebrate their own history and fight for freedom. Some even carry on commemorating for the whole month! Although we may all have unique traditions, spending time with loved ones, eating tasty food, and celebrating with music or dance are commonly shared. Keep reading to find out how a few other countries around the world recognize their independence day!
Although many mistakenly confuse Mexican Independence Day with Cinco de Mayo, which celebrates Mexico’s victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla, their independence is actually celebrated on September 16th, to commemorate the day a Catholic priest named Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla spoke out about the injustice they were experiencing under Spanish rule and encouraged the masses to fight for freedom. Mexico was once ruled by Spain for over 300 years, and during that time, dealt with unequal access to farmland, wealth and positions of power in politics. Tired of the blatant discrimination, on September 16, 1810, Hidalgo, who lived in the city of Dolores, carried a banner of the Virgen de Guadalupe and rang his church’s bell before delivering a speech advocating for independence from Spanish rule that would become famously known as “El Grito de Dolores” (The Cry of Dolores).
Even though Hidalgo was ultimately unsuccessful and was beheaded by the government to instill fear and discourage revolution, in 1821, Agustín de Iturbide led troops into Mexico City, where he was able to seize control and declare independence. His Plan of Iguala promised three things: Keep Mexico independent from Spanish rule, solidify the country as Roman Catholic, and ensure equality for all citizens under a monarchy-style system. This system was ultimately unsuccessful, but eventually led to a democratic republic led by Guadalupe Victoria—Mexico’s first president after the signing of the Treaty of Cordoba. However, Mexican citizens honor Hidalgo and deem him the Father of Mexican Independence because his courageous speech was the first spark of resistance.
To celebrate this momentous turning point in their history, on the night of September 15th, the President of Mexico rings the 200-year-old bell used in 1810 and reenacts Hidalgo’s speech on the balcony of the church. This tradition is broadcast to millions via TV and radio for those who cannot attend in person.
Similarly to America, Mexico also celebrates the day with stunning displays of fireworks, fiestas, music, and, of course, delectable food. There are traditional mariachi performances and folk dancing in the streets, where women wear colorful dresses while the men wear elegant black trousers and sombreros. You can usually hear exuberant cheers expressing “Viva la independencia nacional!” and “Viva Mexico!” along with whistles and horns.
And of course, we can’t forget about the fantastic food. Meals typically prepared on this day include pozole (a soup made with hominy and meat, usually chicken or pork), menudo (a stew made with tripe in a red chili pepper base), and chiles en nogada (a poblano chile stuffed with meat and topped with a white walnut-based cream sauce, pomegranate, and parsley). It’s especially festive because it contains all of the colors of the Mexican flag! And when you get a little thirsty, adults can enjoy a beer, sangria or glass of tequila. Every year, Mexican citizens show pride in their country by demonstrating beautiful displays of community as they joyously commemorate their day.
After 200 years of British rule, India gained its independence on August 15th, 1947, which is commemorated with parades and flag-hoisting events. The British began ruling over India in 1757 and strengthened their control after the English East India Company won the Battle of Plassey. Previously, the British had merely traded in India, but this battle marked the beginning of Britain’s eventual takeover. It wasn’t until after WWII that the British announced they would transfer power back to India.
The animosity between Muslims and Hindus led to the proposition that any constitution framed by the Constituent Assembly of India would not be applicable to the areas that refused it. This led to a partition enacted by the viceroy of India, Lord Mountbatten. On the eve of India’s independence, Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister, gave a moving speech marking the occasion with “Tryst with Destiny.” On August 15, 1947, after many battles and nonviolent protests, led by political ethicist Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, or Mahatma Gandhi, India finally gained freedom. The powers were transferred to the independent nations of Pakistan and India, and The Constituent Assembly became the Parliament of Indian Dominion.
India’s celebration commences on August 14th, when the president of India delivers a speech that is broadcast nationally in anticipation of the holiday. On the morning of August 15th, the prime minister hoists the Indian flag from the historic Red Fort in Delhi while there is an honorary 21-gun salute. This is followed by a poignant performance of their national anthem, “Jana Gana Mana,” which serves as a reminder of the hardship citizens had to face to be able to enjoy independence. Throughout India, schools, non-government institutions, and colleges hoist India’s flag and host cultural programs. Patriotic songs are played throughout the day and enliven the citizens.
During their fight for freedom, revolutionaries would fly kites with slogans reading, “Simon Go Back,” in defiance of the Simon Commission—or the Indian Statutory Commission—whose task was to report on India’s constitutional progress. To honor this tradition and the freedom fighters of the past, cities will host kite-flying competitions where citizens can enjoy flying orange, white and green kites—the colors of their flag—to signify resistance and freedom. The sky full of kites is a breathtaking view for anyone lucky enough to witness this meaningful custom.
Canada celebrates its formation as a nation on July 1st and marks the holiday as “Canada Day.” Canada’s formation, unlike that of many other countries, was fortunate since its journey to independence wasn’t filled with war. On July 1, 1867, the British Parliament enacted the British North America Act, which divided Canada into the provinces of Ontario and Quebec and made it possible for neighboring colonies to join in the future. With Canada gradually gaining more independence as time went on, this act served as their constitution until 1982, when they passed their own constitution and became offiically sovereign. In the same year, citizens became more interested in commemorating the event, and consequently, “Dominion Day” was renamed “Canada Day.”
Canadians enjoy celebrating outdoors with picnics, sporting events and festivals. They enjoy barbecues and watching entertaining firework shows much like the ones in the US. In the capital of Ottowa, on the front lawn of Parliament Hill, there is an event that usually kicks off with their national anthem “O Canada” in English and French followed by a flyover by the Snowbirds—the Royal Canadian Air Force’s aerobatics flight demonstration team.
Dishes like poutine (french fries with gravy and cheese curds), baklava (a filo pastry dessert filled with nuts and drizzled with honey), or beaver tails (deep-fried bread topped with cinnamon and chili) are enjoyed throughout the day. Canadian citizens nibble on these tasty treats, especially after spending hours walking in parades while happily waving the nation’s red and white maple leaf flag!
Jamaica was under the control of the British for over 300 years, but after the British Empire broke up, Jamaica took this opportunity to amend its constitution and elect its prime minister, Alexander Bustamante. In 1962, the Jamaica Independence Act was enacted by the United Kingdom Parliament, which led to Jamaica’s independence on August 6, while also establishing the role of the Governor General of Jamaica and preserving the role of the Queen of Jamaica. Ceremoniously, the national flag of the United Kingdom was lowered and exchanged for the new green, yellow and black Jamaican flag. At last, their difficult journey toward freedom had come to an end.
The most anticipated celebration takes place at night at the National Arena, located in Independence Park in the city of Kingston. But the festivities are a weekend-long affair! There are massive street parades and exhibitions that showcase the creative talents of Jamaican dancers and performers who don their country’s colors. The event is called the “Jamaica Festival” and was created the same year the nation gained independence. In 1968, the Jamaica Festival Commission was made official, which eventually became the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission (JCDC) in 1980. But now, the festivities are planned by a large group of volunteers overseen by a JCDC officer.
A beloved tradition that many look forward to is the Popular Song Competition which recognizes talented Jamaican singers and allows them to compete for a cash prize. The aim of this festival is to make sure that Jamaican people understand their history and give them the chance to honor their country’s distinct culture. The effort and time Jamaican citizens put into planning these grand celebrations demonstrates their love and respect for their home.
The Dominican Republic celebrates its Independence Day with intense fervor, perhaps because of how difficult and long the journey to attain sovereignty was. In the 1800s, the Spanish ruled over them, and their headquarters were in the colony of Santo Domingo, which is now the capital of the Dominican Republic. José Núñez de Cáceres decided to overthrow the Spanish government, and on November 9, 1821, he was successful. However, independence did not last long; two months later Haiti invaded and took control of the newly freed land.
After 22 years of conflict, Juan Pablo Duarte, along with Ramón Matías Mella and Francisco del Rosario Sánchez, formed a secret society called “La Trinitaria,” whose mission was to gain autonomy from Haiti. They were eventually able to gain freedom on February 27, 1844, and marked the achievement with a cannon shot from the “Puerta del Conde” in Santo Domingo and the mounting of the Dominican flag. Unfortunately, this did not mark the true end to their fight for freedom since, in 1861, the Spanish took over once again, but this time, after a strong insurrection, Dominicans regained liberty in 1865.
Dominicans designate February 27th as their Independence Day, but they mark the whole month of February as their “Patriotism Month.” During the whole month, citizens can be observed participating in flag-raising events, historical enactments and cultural events that honor their historical figures, music and food. But the most well-known way that Dominicans celebrate is through Carnaval—a lively street procession filled with vibrant, colorful costumes, loud music and passionate merengue dancing. The city of La Vega holds one of the largest festivals in the country and holds a procession every Sunday in February.
Although each town celebrates Carnaval slightly differently, there are popular customs and characters that are always incorporated. Dominicans take great care in choosing their flamboyant costumes that represent traditional satirical characters like Diablo Cojuelo (the Limping Devil, who is the main character of the parade and whose gaudy attire, of shiny shirts and cloaks adorned with mirrors and bells, is meant to mock the Spaniards) or Roba la Gallina (Steal the Chicken, the comical character that pokes fun at the fact that people used to steal chickens from farms).
But attendees must beware! The Diablo Cojuelo carries vejigas, a whip made of a cow’s dried inflated bladder, cured with lemon, ashes and salt, that is so strongly made that unlucky targets may be left with a nasty bruise for a couple of weeks. This seemingly strange tradition evokes the dark past in which Spaniards enslaved and whipped the native people and is performed to remember the suffering individuals of the past endured for their current freedom. Carnaval is looked forward to throughout the entire year as it allows Dominicans to unapologetically express their love for their country’s culture and traditions.