For Panamanians, November is a month of celebration, with five national holidays taking place. The festive time culminates in celebrating Independence Day, a major annual event.
Whether you’ll be visiting Panama in November or are just curious about the meaning of Independence Day for Panama, this guide created by our team here at Remitly is for you. Read on to learn about the history and celebrations that mark Panama Independence Day and to find out more about the other holidays that take place in November.
When is Panama’s Independence Day?
Panama Independence Day falls on November 28 every year. The holiday’s purpose is to celebrate Panama’s independence from Spain, which was achieved on November 28, 1821.
Independence Day in Panama’s history
To fully understand the significance of Independence Day, you first need to know a bit about the history of Panama.
For more than 300 years, Spain ruled the area now known as Panama via the Viceroyalty of Peru.
Life under Spanish control was difficult for the native indigenous peoples of Panama. Still, the area’s location in Central America had tactical importance to Spain, and its natural resources brought wealth to the region, giving the colonized people a sense of pride in their homes.
During the early 19th century, independence began to sweep across South America, thanks to the efforts of heroes like Francisco de Miranda and Simon Bolivar. Panama’s role as a major port city in the Spanish empire meant news of successful revolts spread easily to the colony, and the Panamanians soon became inspired to fight for freedom themselves.
On November 10, 1821, the people of Villa de Los Santos penned a letter to Simon Bolivar, asking for his assistance in leading a revolution to end Spanish rule in Panama. People often refer to this letter as “the first cry for freedom” or “primer grito de Independence.”
Eighteen days later, in an open town meeting, Panama formally declared its independence day from Spain, making November 28 the date that Panamanian independence is celebrated.
It’s important to note that freedom from Spain for Panama didn’t initially mean the country was fully independent. Afraid of harsh repercussions from Spain, Panama turned to its neighbors for protection, joining Gran Colombia. In addition to Panama, this republic also included parts of Brazil, Ecuador, Guayana, Peru, and Venezuela.
True independence for Panama wouldn’t come until 1903. At that time, the U.S. was negotiating with Panamanian leaders to build a canal across the country. The government of Gran Colombia was against the idea, but the Panamanians believed an alliance with the U.S. was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
On November 3, 1903, Panama exited Gran Colombia and finally became a fully sovereign nation called the Republic of Panama.
How does Panama celebrate Independence Day?
Each year, on November 28, Independence Day celebrations occur across Panama. Let’s take a look at how people in the country mark the holiday.
Many cities and villages hold parades in honor of Independence Day. The largest of these is a massive military parade in Panama City, the capital of Panama.
In other places, civilians lead parades and include student marching bands. Crowds gather along the streets to watch the parades go by.
When evening arrives, many cities and villages set off fireworks to fill the sky with color. People attend the fireworks displays with their friends, families, and neighbors.
Unfortunately, the weather doesn’t always cooperate on Independence Day. November is the wettest month of the year in Panama, so at times, fireworks must be delayed or rescheduled because of rain.
To pay tribute to Panama’s rich history, many people wear traditional costumes on Independence Day. These outfits have a long tradition and can be traced back to colonial times.
For women, the national outfit is known as the Gala Pollera. It includes a colorful embroidered and tiered skirt and a matching top that typically has a shirred elastic neckline.
Jewelry is also an important part of the Gala Pollera. Women often layer on gold chains and wear matching rings and bracelets. In their hair, ladies often sport a peineton, a large comb made of gold.
The Panamanian national outfit for men is the Montuno. It includes a white pin-tucked tunic, usually topped off with colorful buttons and a high collar. Men usually pair black pants with the tops.
Panamanian men have patriotic accessories of their own. On their heads, they often wear a sombrero pintao, a straw hat with embroidered black lines, and they sport black and white shoes called chinelas on their feet. Completing the ensemble is a striped, woven crossbody bag known as chacara.
Many places host dances in honor of Panama Independence Day. People come in their national costumes and perform the national dance of the country called the tamborito, or little drum.
Some regions have special dances of their own as well. Along the Caribbean coast, couples may perform the bullerengue. During this rousing dance, the man attempts to kiss his partner while she does her best to avoid him.
Another regional dance is the cumbia, which comes from the Azuero peninsula and Veraguas. There are several variations of this traditional dance, including a fast-paced version that is fun but challenging.
Other regional dances you may see performed on Independence Day in Panama include the congo, the gamma burui, the maypole, and the cuckoo dance.
Independence Day is one of the busiest times for domestic travel in Panama. Because schools, government offices, and most businesses close on the holiday, it’s a great time for vacations. Many families will head to the beach or leave major cities to visit family in rural areas.
On Independence Day, the flag of Panama flies over homes, businesses, and government offices. The flag includes a red rectangle symbolizing authority and law and a blue triangle representing purity and honesty. Two white rectangles signify peace, and they bear blue and red stars that stand for the new republic formed in 1903.
Eating festive foods and drinks
No Panamanian celebration is complete without delicious food and drinks. Some tasty things people commonly enjoy on Independence Day include:
- Bofe: A mincemeat dish often prepared with beef lungs
- Hojaldre: A round fried bread typically served with bofe
- Chicheme: A creamy drink made with corn and cinnamon
- Torrejitas: Fried corn biscuits
- Carimañolas: Fried turnovers stuffed with ground beef and mashed cassava
- Tortilla frita: Fried corn tortillas
- Lechona: Fried pork leg
- Chicharrón: Deep-fried pork belly
- Tamales: Corn dough stuffed with chicken or pork, then wrapped in a plantain tree leaf and boiled
- Souse: A dish made of vinegar, cucumber, and cow or pig foot
Celebrating the Independence Day of Panama in the U.S.
Around 240,000 people of Panamanian descent lived in the U.S. as of 2021. While these individuals help contribute to the American economy and culture, they also carry on traditions like celebrating Panama Independence Day each year.
In cities with large Panamanian populations, you’ll often find large organized celebrations for the holiday. However, the events often occur earlier in November due to Thanksgiving typically falling around November 28.
Here’s a brief look at three of the biggest Panama Independence Day celebrations in the U.S.
New York City
The Panamanian Consulate in Manhattan organizes a Panamanian Independence Day celebration each year. In addition, it helps to plan for the Panamanian Parade and Festival, which is usually held on the first or second Saturday in October.
For more than a decade, a large parade has taken place in November to celebrate Panama Independence Day and the other Panamanian holidays that occur during the month. Marching bands perform, and people march wearing Polleras and Montunos.
Each November, the Houston Association of Panamanians throws a huge celebration called Panama in the Park to celebrate Independence Day. The event includes dancing, food, and musical performances.
Beyond the Independence Day of Panama: Other November holidays
As previously mentioned, Independence Day isn’t the only patriotic holiday in Panama that takes place in November. Other public holidays that celebrate the history of Panama include:
- Separation Day: Held on November 3, this holiday commemorates the separation of Panama from Gran Colombia and the official establishment of the Republic of Panama.
- Flag Day: On November 4, Panamanians honor their national flag with parades and celebrations.
- Colon Day: November 5 marks Colon Day and remembers when Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World.
- Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de los Santos: Panamanians remember the first cry for independence with this holiday on November 10.
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- Peru Independence Day: A Guide to Celebrations and History
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