In the middle of the sweltering summer, we spend the afternoon in front of a hot, smoking grill. We compete to see who can eat the most hot dogs. We shoot explosives into the sky. It can only be July 4th, the U.S. celebration of independence from British rule. For Americans these traditions are patriotic, familiar, steeped in history and nostalgia. But from an outside perspective, they could be seen as somewhat bizarre. On the other hand, we may feel the same way about how other countries celebrate their own independence — each tradition a reflection of their unique culture and heritage. Here are the 7 coolest and quirkiest independence celebrations worldwide.
On August 17, 1945 Indonesia said “good riddance” to their Dutch colonizers and declared independence. From that point forward, Indonesians have celebrated August 17 with some exciting traditions. Panjat pinang is a game played across the country, in which citizens scale greased palm tree trunks in an attempt to reach prizes hung from the top. Participants work together to reach the prizes, in honor of the collaboration and strength required to gain independence. Other fun traditions include the release of hundreds of baby sea turtles into the ocean and a shrimp cracker-eating contest.
You can find another celebration packed with fun activities down under. January 26 marks what’s commonly referred to as Australia Day, which commemorates the nation’s founding on that day in 1788. Two major events make the holiday special. In Sydney Harbor, as many as 700 boats take part in a series of races at the Australia Day Regatta. But the real fun occurs in the city of Adelaide — home of the annual Havaianas Thong Challenge. The challenge brings together thousands of Australians in an attempt to break the world record for the largest number of giant inflatable flip flops in the ocean — which is exactly what you imagine it to be.
3. South Korea
Gwangbokjeol (“Restoration of Light Day”) is the official name for South Korea’s independence day, which falls on August 15. It celebrates Korean liberation from Japan in 1945, after 35 years of Japanese rule. The first South Korean government was established exactly 3 years later, on August 15, 1948. A lavish ceremony is held at the Independence Hall of Korea, at which the president speaks and people join together in traditional song. The truly interesting part of Gwangbokjeol, however, is the very literal way in which South Korea celebrates freedom. Each year the president grants special prison pardons in honor of the day of liberation. In 2016 President Park Geun-hye pardoned more than 4,800 prisoners!
France’s independence day equivalent doesn’t really celebrate independence, per se, but rather marks the start of a republican form of the government. Bastille Day, celebrated on July 14, honors the storming of the tyrannical Bastille fortress and prison in 1789. A mob, about 1,000 people strong, took control of the castle after hours of fighting, proving to France and the world that the monarchy was weak, and eventually leading to full-blown revolution. Like the United States, the French celebrate their big day with food, fireworks, parades, and plenty of patriotism. What sets Bastille Day apart, though, is the opportunity to dance the night away in a fire station. On the nights of July 13 and 14, fire stations across Paris open to the public and throw large dance parties. They offer a unique way to bring communities together in celebration of France.
The U.S. isn’t the only country that celebrates freedom from British rule. India sent the Brits packing after 200 years of colonial rule and declared its independence on August 15, 1947. Each year, the prime minister gives a speech at the Red Fort in Delhi and raises the Indian flag. Then the fun really begins. People break out their kites — often orange, white, and green in honor of the Indian flag — and take to the skies in a symbolic display of freedom. But watch your back: the flying can get pretty competitive as children and adults alike try to knock their neighbors’ kites out of the sky. Freedom has its obstacles.
On March 6, Ghana celebrates its independence from (surprise, surprise) Great Britain. Colonial rule of the West African country ended in 1957, and since then Ghana, the first sub-Saharan nation to gain independence, has shown the world how to party! The day begins with a large parade in Independence Square in the capital city of Accra, where thousands gather to watch schoolchildren and security personnel march. Following the parade, Ghanaians head to the beach for massive parties with music, dancing, and games.
After being part of the Russian empire since 1809, Finland declared itself an independent nation on December 6, 1917. Finnish Independence Day features fewer large-scale events and instead focuses on commemorating the day on local and individual levels. The blue and white colors of the flag are displayed in shop windows and used as icing on baked goods. In a more subtle tradition, families light two candles and place them in the windows of their homes. This is thought to originate in the 1920s, when candles were placed in windows to signal to Finnish soldiers that a family was willing to offer them a safe hiding place from the Russians.