When Are Panama’s National Holidays?
Panama is a vibrant country. On any day, there will be one fiesta, parade, or any event being celebrated by the locals in someplace, city or province. Celebrations often come with throbbing music, frenzied dancing, rowdy cheers, and great food.
However, there are holidays in which the whole nation celebrates. These national holidays are huge celebrations that complement the people’s laid back lifestyle and their penchant to celebrate life.
Here is a list of Panama’s national holidays.
|January 1||Día de Año Nuevo||New Year’s Day|
|January 9||Día de los Mártires||Honour the student demonstrators during the Flag Incident in 1964|
|4 Days before Ash Wednesday||Carnaval de Panamá||Festivities before the Lenten Season|
|July 1||Inauguración presidencial (Every 5 years)||Newly elected president is formally inducted to the office|
|Holy Friday||Good Friday||Death of Christ|
|May 1||International Workers’ Day||Labor Day|
|November 2||El Dia de Los Muertos||Celebrate and honor the dead|
|November 3||Día de Separación de Panamá de Colombia||Separation Day (from Colombia).|
|November 4||Día de la Bandera||Formal Adoption of Flag of Panama|
|November 5||Día de Colon||Commemorates the persuasion of the Colombian forces in Colon not to contest and battle Panama’s separation from Colombia|
|November 10||Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de Los Santos||First cry of Independence in the Villa de Los Santos against Spain|
|November 28||Día de la independencia de España||Independence Day (from Spain).|
|December 8||Día de la Madre||Mother’s Day|
|December 25||Día de Navidad||Christmas Day|
New Year’s Day
Along with the entire world, Panama celebrates the first day of the year on the modern Gregorian calendar. However, unlike other countries, Panama’s New Year celebration features one of the most elaborate fireworks displays, which is held in Panama City, which starts at midnight until the wee hours of the morning.
Aside from the conventional New Year festivities, some Panamanians also observe certain unique customs and traditions in line with the New Year revelries. This includes consuming 12 grapes at midnight which corresponds to your 12 wishes for the year, holding money in your hand at the stroke of midnight to have money for a whole year, wearing yellow underwear for luck or red for love, and putting rice in a pot or leaving fruits and rice indoors for prosperity.
Among these customs, however, the most conspicuous of all is the use of Muñecos. These life-sized dummies, which are usually effigies of celebrities are stuffed with firecrackers and are lighted at midnight to drive away bad luck and evil spirits.
This day commemorates the death and sacrifice of students during the “Flag incident”. In 1964, over a hundred students from Instituto Nacional, marched inside the Panama Canal Zone carrying the Panamanian flag. They were met by Zonians and US police forces, which resulted in a scuffle that led to the Panama flag getting torn.
The alleged desecration of the Panama flag caused an outrage that triggered a series of mobilizations from the whole country. The riots would ultimately culminate in the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties, where Panama regains full control of the Panama Canal from the US. A wreath is usually laid in the monument of the Martyrs during the celebrations.
Carnival of Panama
One of the biggest celebrations in Panama that run for four consecutive days before Ash Wednesday is the Carnival. It starts on Friday with the coronation of the Carnival Queen and ends with the burial of the sardine. In between those dates, mojaderas are conducted in which floats are paraded and trucks spray water to the people. The costumes of the queen follow certain themes that change every day from coronation, fantasy, gala, luxury, and extravagance.
The Carnival is believed to have originated during colonial times when some people depicted the Spanish colonization of Panama. Actors disguised themselves as Spanish royalties and colonizing the locals who sallied from Peña Prieta Beach. In 1910, Panama mayor José Agustín Arango formalized the tradition, in which beautiful women were chosen to play the role of the queen.
Although the biggest celebrations of the Carnival are held in Panama City, many local communities around the country also hold their own celebration of the Carnival. This usually involves different opposing queens, along with their respective people (prickly pears). The climax of costumed parades is on Tuesday. Top on begins in the morning of Ash Wednesday which features fireworks. Carnival ends with a symbolic or actual burying of sardines to mark the end of the celebrations.
Every 5 years, Panama’s elections are held. The president and vice president are elected for a five-year term by the people. The presidential inauguration is essentially a celebration when a newly-elected president takes an oath to the office. Aside from the president, the inauguration of the vice-president, Asamblea Nacional (national congress) and gubernatorial positions in the provinces are also held on this day, which calls for national celebration.
International Workers’ Day
Panama also commemorates Labor Day or International Workers Day to honor the working class in the country. Labor Day is celebrated to honor a group of organized workers dubbed the Martyrs of Chicago in 1886.
In Panama, the government through the Public Ministry safeguards and defends the economic rights and social security of laborers. The country celebrates Labor Day to honor the working people for their dedication and enthusiasm in serving the country.
Day of the Dead (Todos Los Fieles Difuntos)
The Day of the Dead in Panama is celebrated in remembrance of the departed. As a predominantly Catholic country, the objective of the celebration is to pray for the faithful who have passed away especially those who are still in the purgatory, awaiting further purification, to get to heaven and be in the presence of God.
In Panama, the celebration may involve a trip of students to the cemetery and floral offerings by government officials to notable figures in Panama’s history. Most locals, on the other hand, visit their deceased relatives in cemeteries, clean the graves of their loved ones and decorate their tombs. It is also known as a dry day as people cannot purchase liquor or alcohol in any store until after midnight.
Separation day marks the day when Panama separated from Colombia in 1903 and become a republic. While Panama gained independence from Spain on November 28, 1821, the country joined Gran Colombia at its own free will and subsequently became one of its provinces along with Colombia, Ecuador, and Venezuela. This union lasted for 9 decades in which Panama organized over 20 failed attempts of secession.
The separation of Panama from Colombia was instigated by Colombia’s rejection of US terms with regards to the latter’s take-over and construction of the Panama Canal. Panama’s declaration of separation from Colombia was supported by the US. Their independence would Panama directly negotiate with the Americans without intervention from Colombia. As part of the deal, the US will ensure and protect Panama’s independence.
Now known as the Day of the National Symbols, Flag Day marks the date when the national flag of Panama was officially adopted in 1925. You will see the national flag in every major institution in the country during its celebrations. For more on this, please refer to the article, “When Is Panama’s Independence Day?”
This day marks the date when members of the Colonense Revolutionary Board particularly Porfirio Meléndez, Eleazar Guerrero and Carlos Clemant, among others, persuaded Colombian forces stationed in Colon not to fight Panama’s separation from Colombia.
After Panama declares separation from Colombia, a bloody war has been anticipated. It will take another three days for Colombia to reach the news of separation so the secessionists acted promptly to prevent further bloodshed from happening.
The Colonense Revolutionary Board convinced Colonel Eliseo Torres and the 500 soldiers under his command to avoid taking drastic actions that could instigate war. They were paid eight thousand dollars to leave the country. They sailed for their Colombian territory in the “Orinoco” ship. This event seals Panama’s separation from Colombia.
Primer Grito de Independencia de la Villa de Los Santos
This day commemorates the first shout of independence from Spain by Panamanians in Villa de Los Santos. Tired of slavery, exploitation, and maltreatment from their Spanish colonialists, people gather around Don Segundo de Villarreal carrying machetes and make-do weapons to declare independence from their abusive colonizers. Inspired by patriotic ideals and armed with the vision of freedom, they cried for the liberation of Villa de Los Santos and are ready to lay down their lives for the cause of freedom.
According to legendary accounts, a female peasant named Rufina Alfaro played a central role during the cry of independence. She gave the go-signal for the revolutionaries to siege the barracks without resistance from Spanish soldiers and guards. Alfaro served as a spy who regularly scouted the Spanish garrison.
The shout for independence served as the spark for other Panamanian cities to follow. When news about it spread, people from other communities such as Macaracas, Natá de Los Caballeros, Pesé, and Las Minas among many others followed suit in the clamor for independence.
This day observes the independence of Panama from Spain after 300 years of colonization. After gaining independence in 1821, Panama joined Gran Colombia. Independence Day on November 28 concludes the series of national holidays (Fiesta Patrias) that Panama celebrates every November, also known as El Mes de la Patria”. For more information, please refer to the article, “When Is Panama’s Independence Day?”
One of the most revered holidays in Panama is Mother’s Day when the people pay tribute to all women especially mothers in the country. Aside from celebratory events organized by some institutions, people give presents/ gifts to their mothers such as flowers, chocolates, letters, and others.
Mother’s Day was first celebrated in Panama on May 11, 1924, through the initiative of the Rotary Club. It was later moved to December 8 under the auspices of Hercilia de Arosemena.
Mother’s Day also coincides with the Feast of the Immaculate Concepcion, which also marks the start of the yuletide season in Panama.
As a Christian country, Panama celebrates Christmas Day or the birth of Jesus Christ. Considered as the most joyous season, all people, whether rich or poor, take time in elaborately decorating their homes in celebration of the yuletide. ‘Nacimientos’ are popularly set up depicting the humble birth of Christ.
December 24th is usually spent on cleaning the house and preparing food for Christmas Eve which is the climax of the celebration. The celebration would normally involve families and friends getting together, lighting fireworks, eating, and merry-making.
Traditional food such as Relleno, baked ham, Arroz dulce, potato salad, Pavo, and Tamales are popularly served. Some people celebrate on the streets and many people attend mass in church on December 25.
Although the gift-giving tradition is practiced by some people during Christmas, children usually received their presents on Dia Delos Reyes (Three Kings) which is celebrated on January 6.
As a cheerful and high-spirited nation, there is always something to celebrate in Panama. Indeed, the Panamanians work hard but play harder. They are content and outgoing people who know how to have fun in simple yet meaningful ways. The national holidays in Panama are not only a commemoration of significant events in the history and culture of the people, but they are also meant for the people to celebrate life itself.
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