Experience a national holiday firsthand
What comes to mind when you think of Independence Day? It might include the smoky-sweet smell of a picnic lunch on the grill; or maybe outfitting your pontoon with red, white and blue for an afternoon at the lake. Perhaps you think of ending your day watching your hometown fireworks display from a blanket at the park. Independence Day celebrations take place all throughout the world – some sharing similar traditions to the United States, and some with events and ceremonies unlike anything else. These nationally-celebrated holidays are a fascinating time for travelers to visit: traditional customs and regional costumes are proudly on display, and the most beloved local dishes are readily available.
These are some countries you should consider visiting during their national celebrations:
May 17th – Norway
Norwegians celebrate Grunnlovsdagen (Constitution Day) on May 17th, although they typically refer to it by the date, syttende mai. Children’s flag parades are a highlight of the day, with each elementary school district hosting their own. The younger children each carry a small Norwegian flag with a few older children toting larger ones. The parades begin and end at the elementary schools, often making stops at special locations such as nursing homes or memorials. Locals may be found wearing ribbons or traditional Norwegian wear such as a bunad.
What to eat:
Your diet takes a break for syttende mai. Ice cream and hot dogs are the favorite foods for parade-goers. Later in the day, many Norwegians have a small gathering of friends and family. Here you might serve open-faced sandwiches, smoked salmon, desserts topped with berries and, most importantly–cake! A classic cake choice is verdens beste kake (The World’s Best Cake), which layers rich sponge cake, fluffy meringue, almonds, and sweet whipped cream.
July 14th – France
The French National Holiday, also known as Bastille Day, commemorates the Storming of Bastille, a critical event in the French Revolution. A military parade marches along the Champs-Elysee. It is the oldest military parade in the world. The evening fireworks are a grand spectacle, the largest display being at the Champ de Mars near the Eiffel Tower. You could also attend a “Firemen’s Ball.” Firehouses throughout Paris open their doors to the public for either a small fee or donation and host a party: music, dancing, and food late into the night.
What to eat:
Start your day with le petit dejeuner (breakfast). A classic breakfast of crepes, savory or sweet, is always a good bet. If you’re in a rush, stop by a bakery for a fresh pastry. The French like to spend this national holiday in the streets, so pull together a picnic lunch of a baguette, cheese, and charcuterie for your afternoon out.
August 15th – India
On August 15th of 1947, the United Kingdom Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act of 1947, ending over 200 years of colonial rule. Indians may celebrate this holiday by attending parades and other cultural events. Many choose to spend a simple day with friends and family at a nearby park. Kite-flying is a popular activity, as a kite is seen as a symbol of freedom in Indian culture.
What to eat:
No trip to India would be complete without some tandoori chicken or spicy biryani. If you want to shake it up, try your biryani with marinated mutton instead of chicken. For dessert, indulge in syrupy gulab jamun, jalebi, or rava ladoo. Wash it all down with spiced or sweet lassi, a traditional yogurt-based drink.
August 17th – Indonesia
Hari Merdeka, as it is locally known, is a celebration of Indonesia’s freedom from Dutch colonization, which was granted in December of 1949. The ceremony begins on August 16th with an address given by the president and the raising of the flag at the National Palace. After this, festivities break out across the country with music, games, races and even food-eating contests. The most interesting event is, perhaps, panjat pinang, a contest dating back to the Dutch colonization era. Contestants must race to climb a slippery pole to claim the coveted prizes at the top. Since this is extremely difficult, it is often only completed with the help of a team, hoisting each other higher and higher up the pole until someone reaches the top.
What to eat:
Many street vendors sell skewered satay, which is a great food to eat on the go. You may observe a Lomba Makan Krupuk (Shrimp Cracker Eating Contest). Contestants, usually children, must attempt to eat crackers hanging from a string with their hands tied behind their back. Try the cracker, but leave the contest for the children!