News

Independence Day Celebrations Around the World

By Tracy Schorn

June 30, 2017

Fireworks

As the United States prepares to break out the fireworks for the Fourth of July, let’s take a look at how other countries celebrate their independence around the globe.

Canada, July 1st 

Formerly called Dominion Day, Canada Day celebrates Canada’s quasi-independence from the British crown. Originally, July 1 commemorated the enactment of the Constitution Act of 1867, which united the three separate colonies of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick into a single Dominion within the British Empire. However, Canada did not actually gain full independence from the British until 1982 with the passage of its own fully liberated Canadian constitution.

Confused? So are the Canadians. How you celebrate Canada Day depends on where you live. (Canada is, after all, a federation.) People in Quebec object to celebrating it at all as it comes close to their own national day—the St‑Jean‑Baptiste Day.

If you happen to be in Detroit or Windsor, Ontario, you can celebrate two independence days at once at the Windsor–Detroit International Freedom Festival. The festival, which attracts over a million visitors, goes on for over a week and culminates in a huge fireworks display over the Ambassador Bridge. The fireworks are one of the largest displays ever in North America, and light up the sky over the Detroit and Windsor riverfronts.

Finland, December 6th

Finland's Independence Day (Finnish: itsenäisyyspäivä) is held on December 6 to celebrate Finland's declaration of independence from the Russian Republic in 1917. Independence Day used to be a solemn occasion, marked by patriotic speeches, church services, and visits to graveyards. In recent history, however, the holiday is celebrated by decorating homes in blue and white (the colors of the Finnish flag) and eating special cakes with blue and white frosting. Finns also watch “The Castle Ball” on television, an elaborate reception at the Presidential Palace. In the evening of Independence Day, it’s traditional for Finnish families to light two candles in each window of their home to commemorate the safe houses that sheltered Finns and hid them from the Russians.

Mandela Votes, 1994South Africa, April 27th

Freedom Day in South Africa celebrates the first day South Africans had universal suffrage, April 27, 1994. Previously, “non-whites” had minimal to no voting rights under apartheid. The South African government's official website says Freedom Day signifies “the end of over 300 years of colonialism, segregation and white minority rule and the establishment of a new democratic government led by Nelson Mandela and a new state subject to a new constitution.” South Africans celebrate the day (as they do many days) by braaiing (barbecuing).

India, August 15th

August 15 celebrates the nation's hard-won independence from the British Empire, which it achieved through a long, mostly non-violent campaign of civil disobedience. Among the Indian diaspora, August 15 is celebrated as India Day. The independence of India tragically coincided with Partition, in which the former colony divided along religious lines into the countries of India and Pakistan, resulting in terrible sectarian violence and the displacement of nearly 15 million people. (Pakistan celebrates its independence from the British a day earlier, August 14.) The holiday is observed throughout India with patriotic ceremonies, parades, and cultural events. Government officials hand out sweets, and in some parts of India they fly kites to celebrate. The Indian Postal Service also puts out special commemorative stamps each year depicting independence movement leaders.

South Korea, August 15th

South Koreans celebrate Gwangbokjeol—Restoration of Light Day—to memorialize the end of Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula, which lasted from 1910 to 1945. While other countries might barbecue sausages, South Koreans take their freedom celebrations more literally—the government issues special prisoner pardons on Independence Day. There’s also a Gwangbokjeol song, a presidential speech, and a formal ceremony at Cheonan, the Independence Hall of Korea.

Belize, September 21st

Independence in Belize is observed with a mash-up of two “September celebrations” enjoyed all month long. The first is the Battle of St. George’s Caye Day on September 10, marking the day British settlers, buccaneers, and slaves defeated the Spaniards from occupying Belize. The second celebration is national Independence Day on September 21. While there are the usual patriotic happenings of flag flying and color wearing, Belize wins for most exuberant partying. In a carnival called Belize J'ouvert, people cover themselves in mud, paint, and chocolate as an expression of their freedom and parade through the streets.

Latvia, November 18th

November 18 is Proclamation Day of the Republic of Latvia, marking the anniversary of the Proclamation of Independence of Latvia by the People's Council in 1918. The day is celebrated with a large torchlight procession through the capital city of Riga, beginning at the statue of the first prime minister of Latvia, Kārlis Ulmanis, and ending at the Freedom Monument. If you miss the parade, there’s also a new tradition for a worldwide simultaneous sing-along to the Latvian national anthem “Dievs, svētī Latviju!” at 21:00 (Latvian time). You can find the lyrics here if you want to join in.

Burkina Faso, August 5th

Speaking of catchy national anthems, try Burkina Faso’s, which includes the lyrics “Against the humiliating bondage of a thousand years/Rapacity came from afar to subjugate them for a hundred years. Against the cynical malice in the shape/Of neo-colonialism and its petty local servants.” Independence Day features that hummable hit, celebrating independence from French rule in 1960. With more than 60 ethnic groups and many religions in Burkina Faso, the people take a pledge on Independence Day to all get along and make their country peaceful and prosperous.