September 15th is Independence Day here in El Salvador. El Salvador shares this day with Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica. All of these Central American countries declared independence from Spain on September 15th, 1821.
Salvadoran schools do a great job of celebrating this day with their students in the days leading up to el Dia de la Independencia. They call their assemblies, “actos civicos” or civic acts, where the students participate in presentations of the national symbols, traditional dances, and readings, among other traditions. The Love & Hope kids have always been enthusiastic to participate in the “actos civicos” at their schools. This year, Vanessa, Jacobo, Esau, and Irene participated in a traditional dance and Moises represented the Central American country of Belize as part of a mock delegation. Jeremiah recited a bit about the national bird, the torogoz, in front of everyone! Brenda also performed a traditional dance at church. Today, we thought we’d explain more and share a little about the traditions and culture surrounding Independence Day in Central America.
Actos civicos usually begin with the National Anthem of El Salvador and a group of students who walk in with the flag. Later, the students present the national symbols and their meanings:
The Flag: The Salvadoran Flag boasts two large blue stripes, which represent the two oceans (the Pacific and Atlantic) that border Central America. The center white stripe signifies peace.
The Coat of Arms: The coat of arms in the center of the flag contains several representative images. Five volcanoes and five flags represent the five Central American countries that were united in their independence from Spain on September 15th. The 14 leaves represent the 14 Salvadoran departments.
The National Flower: Flor de Izote is the national flower of El Salvador. In addition to being a national symbol, Salvadorans often use it in cooking!
The National Bird: The torogoz is a beautiful multicolored bird with long, unique tail feathers. Here in the city, we rarely see them, but at our old house in Los Planes, we saw them all the time!
The National Tree: The maquilishuat tree is known for its distinct and beautiful pink leaves.
Actos civicos always include a few different traditional dances and songs as well. The participants dress in traditional clothing that would have been worn by indigenous farmers and coffee pickers in El Salvador. Some of the popular dances and songs are:
Las Cortadoras: This song and dance are about beautiful women cutting coffee cherries.
El Carbonero: This song is also known as El Salvador’s second national anthem. It is about a charcoal merchant selling charcoal on a volcano.
El Torito Pinto: During El Torito Pinto, one child wears a fake bull head (sometimes with fireworks attached!) and runs around. The “bull” is surrounded by other children who are trying to escape from it!
This year at one of the schools, we also had the pleasure of “meeting” El Salvador’s founding fathers and watching a mini-drama of the famous Salvadoran folklore (and mischievous) character, el Cipitio:
There are many other special events that happen during the month of September. The Love & Hope kids come home from school every September asking for blue and white crepe paper and balloons to decorate their classrooms. They learn to do artisanal artwork at school and play traditional games. Many of the kids also take in typical food to share, like pupusas and Salvadoran hot chocolate.
The whole country also seems to get pretty excited about Mister Donut’s (a popular chain) independence month promotion: 2-for-1 doughnuts for the whole month of September! We’ve enjoyed a few doughnuts here at Love & Hope this month.
September is a fun month in El Salvador, and for our children, it is a time when they learn and participate in the traditions of their beautiful little country! Salvadorans are a proud people, and we are happy that the Love & Hope kids are learning to appreciate their roots.