A month ago, I was fortunate enough to be in Chile for by far their most important holiday of the year, “Dieciocho”. These celebrations are characterised by three things: terremotos (a Chilean drink of wine, grenadine and pineapple ice-cream); asados (Chilean barbecues); and pisco-filled drinks, aka their national grape-based spirit. This holiday damages the liver and is an excellent way to dive head-first into this culturally complex and exciting country.

Also known as Las Fiestas Patrias, “Dieciocho” is a national holiday that takes place on the 18th of September every year and holds immense historical significance to the Chilean people. It is in remembrance of the date in 1810, whilst the Napoleonic wars were ongoing in Europe, when the Criollo leaders proclaimed independence from their European masters and the long walk to freedom began. Although actual independence came in April 1818, it is the 18th of September that holds a special place in Chilean hearts.

This holiday damages the liver and is an excellent way to dive head-first into this culturally complex and exciting country.

Over 200 years have passed since their proclamation of independence, yet Chileans still celebrate it like they themselves were the revolutionaries who took the brave decision to challenge the status quo. The fervour that grips Chile during this holiday really struck me as I wandered around, stunned by the lengths the government and people go to enjoy themselves and really make the most out of this extended public holiday. Schools often give children the whole week off, and many jobs don’t bother chasing up workers who are likely still drinking themselves silly in one of the fondas (carnival-esque parties) that pop up in every city in Chile. Being English, the significance of this holiday struggled to hit home with me; we just don’t have a cultural equivalent of “Dieciocho”. The thought that kept coming to me was, over 200 years later, why do the Chilean people still take such pride in the holiday? Do they actually care? Or is it just an excuse to skip out on work and get drunk with your friends in a park?

My view after the five days of partying was that, although the historical significance has indeed become diluted, it is nevertheless still a vital part of Chilean culture and in many ways epitomises what it means to be Chilean. Santiago is not only one of the metropolitan hubs of Latin America, but also by far one of the safest cities. However, it is consistently overlooked by travelling Europeans in favour of Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. Much like the 4th July celebrations in America, “Dieciocho” is just another way to celebrate being Chilean, and embodies the laid-back yet organised country that Chile is.

It is a time for Chileans to come together as a family and, although I went travelling to the pisco region of Chile, this atmosphere followed me. Each city competes to boast a grander display than its neighbour, and the patriotism is infectious. I ended up singing the Chilean national anthem several times with Chilean flags drawn on my cheeks and Chilean flags wrapped around my shoulders at one of the many concerts that are put on. Having said that, there was an order to “Dieciocho” that I would not have expected, and this is a testament to the modern, structured state that has come into existence since Pinochet. Yes, in politics there are always people unhappy with whoever is in power, and if you speak with many, they will happily insult the country’s leadership to you. But, having travelled to the surrounding countries and much of Africa, I can promise that Chile is a thriving, prosperous nation. More than this, it is on the cusp of something great. As Chile becomes more connected, challenging the dominance of other Latin-American countries and finding its place in the world, traditional celebrations like “Dieciocho” will play an ever-more important role in securing and reinforcing Chilean culture. There is something in the air that transforms the people, a contagious happy-go-lucky vibe, and you just can’t say no.

a vital part of Chilean culture and in many ways epitomises what it means to be Chilean

Chile is a country steeped in history and decorated with some of the world’s most spectacular sights. With the driest desert on Earth sprawled in the north and the simply jaw-dropping landscapes in the far south of Patagonia, Chile could not be more diverse, yet these five days of national festivities are still amongst my favourites things to see here. So often people go travelling and struggle to click with the culture they’re looking in on, to find a link that enables them to truly enjoy a place from a local’s perspective. But, as far as it goes, “Dieciocho” is a showcase of Chilean culture that anyone can get involved with in ways you would never have thought possible.

Living here in Chile, I have no doubt I will continue enjoying the touristy aspects, as any visitor should. However, the memory of drinking a few litres’ worth of terremotos with my Chilean friends at 5am on what is their most important holiday of the year will be etched in my mind forever. You cannot put a price on experiences such as these. It’s not obligatory to get involved, but what a mistake it is to not take part and enjoy these cultural events, wherever you are in the world. It is such a crime to go somewhere new and not rinse that opportunity for everything it’s worth, and being in the thick of “Dieciocho” is a prime example. Getting familiar with the culture and what matters to people will make your trip that bit more thought-provoking and meaningful, so delve that little bit deeper. You’ll thank yourself, I guarantee.

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