September 15th marks the day when five countries in Central America declared independence from Spain in 1821. Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, joined together against Spanish forces to gain their collective (and individual) independence.

During the entire month of September, these countries celebrate with their own vibrant traditions, from parades to piñatas, dancing in the streets, and speeches from public officials.

A Brief History of September 15th Independence Days

The first Spanish settlements were founded in the 1500s, and this led to many clashes and wars between the indigenous people of the Aztec and Maya civilizations and Spanish conquerors.

During the American Revolutionary War, there were clashes between the British and the Spanish on Nicaraguan territory, but it wasn’t until decades later that the Peninsula War, and the ousting of King Ferdinand VII from the Spanish throne, allowed revolts in El Salvador and Nicaragua to fight against the Spanish.

These revolts led to the Spanish Constitution of 1812, the first step towards Central America’s independence. This proclamation affirmed national sovereignty, but was short-lived, as it was repealed in 1814, when Ferdinand VII regained the throne and abolished the constitution.

In 1821, the provincial council of Guatemala joined forces with other Central American leaders from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, El Salvador, and Honduras to draft, debate, and ultimately sign the proclamation that would come to be known as the Act of Independence for Central America.

How does each country celebrate their Independence Day?

Beginning on September 9th, a torch is carried from Guatemala to Costa Rica, passed from hand to hand, and carried on foot throughout all of the five countries celebrating independence day on September 15th. The lanterns are often brought through the streets as a traditional symbol of hope.

But the celebrations often begin much sooner than that, and often happen at the same time as the torch is being passed through each country. Food, dancing, parades, and music are all part of the celebratory festivities, and each country celebrates their national pride in their own unique way!

Guatemala begins preparing for Independence Day festivities way in advance, with kids rehearsing big dances and musical performances for the big day. It’s like a huge party, with dancing, parades, music, lots of food, and a firework display.

On September 15th, El Salvador begins their Independence Day celebrations bright and early at 7 O’Clock in the morning, with schools participating in a huge parade with dancing and marching. They also have a military parade to commemorate the day.

Honduras begins celebrating independence day with Flag Day on September 6th, and more celebrations on September 15th. Parades are held throughout the streets all over the country.

On September 11th, the torch changes hands at “Las Manos,” the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. It is exchanged between the ministers, and the next day, folkloric events take place.

A picturesque street in Nicaragua.

In Nicaragua, the start of the Central American Patrimonial festivities begin on the first day of September, as they celebrate with parades with marching bands from local schools participating. On September 15th, the Act of Independence of Central America is read in all state schools. In the past, one of their celebratory activities on the day of independence included a musical festival, Festival Nacional de Bandas Rítmicas, for local students who compete and perform for a panel of judges.

Finally, the torch is then passed at the southern border, “Peñas Blancas,” between the Nicaraguan and Costa Rican Ministers of Education.

Photo credit: Alberto Font, The Tico Times

In Costa Rica, they call September “Homeland’s Month,” and they celebrate independence day beginning on the evening of September 14th with a parade of homemade lanterns, Desfile de Faroles. Kids often make faroles in school leading up to the big day. This tradition commemorates the Independence Torch, which is now the national symbol of freedom in Costa Rica.

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