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Fiestas Patrias, Part I

Friday, September 16, 2011

This Sunday, September 18th, is a Chilean national holiday.  Technically it’s not Independence Day, but rather the first gathering of the big wigs in 1810 who would become the Chilean government after independence was achieved eight years later.

Sounds basically like American July 4th, but I would argue that “El Dieciocho” [the eighteenth, as it is called] is actually closer to Christmas, mostly in terms of the scale.  Dieciocho is a week, a season, more than a day.  Let me explain what this month has looked like in Palena so far (and this is before the three-day weekend of parties):

mid August — September 16: Band practice.

About twenty of the eighty high school students in Palena, including over half of the 9th graders, are in the marching band, the first in the school’s history.  The band practiced during the school day, for many hours each day.  When a few teachers complained about students missing class, administrators reiterated that the band is great for the kids, and that they would of course attend class the day of a test.

What is the point of showing up for a test if you haven’t been to the preceding classes?  If the band is so good for the kids, why can’t they do it after school?  Or have worked on this bit by bit all year?  And it’s really okay for high schoolers to miss over half of their classes for an entire month?

Wednesday, August 31st:  Cueca performance/ competition in the school.

Classes mostly cancelled all day.  Cueca is the national dance of Chile, and everyone from prek up gets into it, including the traditional costumes.  Winners went on to regional competition in Futaleufú the next week.  A first grader asked me, “Tía, what is cueca like in your country?”  Older students have asked me the more “mature” question: “Tía, what is the national dance of your country?”  Everyone is dumbfounded that there is no traditional dance, not even costume, certainly not for July 4th, but not really for any holiday.  But on this day, one notoriously unruly third grader was selected as the elementary champion.  Later, I hear his teacher saying this is the worst thing that has ever happened to him, because it has all “gone to his head.”

Wait, this is one of the best things that happened for this kid, who is never successful at anything!  What a great opportunity to build on his confidence, to use his representation of the school at the regional competition as an incentive for classroom work and behavior!  

P.S. No class, no big deal.

September 5 -9 : Preparations.

The town decorates streets with flags.  Each classroom is adorned with branches, flags, and posters.  Of course, these decorations are put up during class time.  Everyone is talking about, “What are you doing for El Dieciocho?”  “I gained 3 kilos last year!”

3 kilos is 6.6 pounds.

Tuesday, September 13: Classroom Breakfast & March Rehearsal.

No classes, 10:00 – 1:00.

I actually wasn’t at school this day; I was busy planting trees with kids from one of the rural schools (remember, I’m also a science teacher… in Spanish).

Wednesday, September 14: Food Sale, no afternoon classes.

Kids started setting up stands around 10:30.  By eleven, all students were roaming, parents were trickling in with pots of mote con huesillo and trays of empanadas.  With a few exceptions, no students were involved in the transactions of selling food, but rather, a few parents.  Students walked home or left with parents whenever they were done.

Delicious!  No classes again, but a great opportunity for kids to do math and work together — oh wait, (a few) parents did it all.


Mote con huesillo, traditional treat of cooked dried peaches with wheat, like barley. [missing from photos: all the savory, meaty things]

On Wednesday, I was also invited to a assado being held by the company (that we are connected to), but declined, given that I had class in the evening.  

Thursday, September 15: Assembly, no afternoon classes.

No one knew the time of the assembly.  I was in English class with first grade at 10:30 when several high school students came to tell us to bring our chairs out in front of the stage.  I waited with first grade for half an hour for the assembly to start.  It consisted of: plenty of cueca, words from the principal & mayor, two teachers dressed up in costume, reading aloud about nuestra patria, and my personal favorite mainstay of Palena assemblies: the Powerpoint presentation.  Given that this was Fiestas Patrias and all, there were two powerpoints: one with text about the history of Chile that floated from one corner to another to fast to read, and a second with images of leather stirups fading into empanadas and then mountains, set to music.

Several teachers had (during class time) worked to put up curtains and re-do the stage, which looked much nicer.  Two juniors parted the curtains to reveal a neatly formed ensemble of students, playing recorder and singing.


With Cristian, my English co-teacher!

Also, after the assembly, teachers were invited to gather to share empanadas and wine.  I respectfully bowed out (when I saw others leaving).  When I came back in the afternoon for a meeting, one of the administrators was visibly drunk.

Friday, September 16: Parade.

Students came in at 10, left after parade was over.  I marched with prekinder, and showed off that I know the lyrics to the Chilean national anthem!  Too bad it was cold and rainy.  We also spent at least half an hour waiting for things to start — which, when I asked, I discovered meant waiting for the officials to be done with mass.


Coming soon, Part II.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Eliza permalink
    Friday, September 16, 2011 9:07 pm

    Yes…now I get it. Good stuff Margaret, keep it coming!

  2. Jane Woodman permalink
    Saturday, September 17, 2011 5:37 am

    I want to have a national dance and costume. xo


  1. Class time, autonomy, and other things I like – I admit it « Latitude 43

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