Holidays are big events in Panama, and November is the pick of the litter for celebratory months. Days off work, colorful traditional clothing, and musical parades… Panamanians dancing up and down the streets in major cities, hosting family parties, and spinning the revelry out as long as they can. If you’re looking to immerse in the rich culture of Panama, book your trip for November to take part in six national holidays. Just make sure you bring an umbrella – November is final month of Panama’s wet or “green” season, and you might feel a little something more than confetti showering down during afternoon festivities.
November 2 – Day of the Dead
November 2nd marks the annual Dia de los Muertos holiday in Panama. On this day of reverence, Panamanians flock to cemeteries across the country to tidy up the graves of their loved ones, decorate their tombstones, and pay their respects with offerings of food and flowers. Unlike the day of fanfare and parades in Mexico, el Dia de los Muertos in Panama takes a more subdued path. Declared a “dry day” by Panama officials, stores and restaurants cannot sell alcohol the entire day. Loud music also gets the axe. Although the Day of the Dead is generally celebrated for a full week in other Latin American countries, Panama’s official independence festivities begin the following day, putting the kibosh on extended mourning.
November 3 – Separation Day
This day begins the country-wide celebration of las Fiestas Patrias commemorating Panama’s separation from Colombia in 1903. The Panamanian people struggled long and hard for independence. El Guerra de los Mil Dias, or “The Thousand Days War,” took place in Colombia at the turn of the 20th century. This civil war involved some of the bloodiest battles that had ever been fought on Panamanian soil. Panama enlisted the help of the US in protecting their newfound Republic since tensions between Colombia and Panama remained high in 1903. Flag Day and Colon Day round out the trio of national holidays that make up the Fiestas Patrias.
November 4 – Flag Day
Visit Panama during November and you’ll see the country’s flag EVERYWHERE. Laura Moller, Amble’s Client Representative in Panama City attests: “Citizens fly flags or attach them to their front doors, and government buildings use every surface to exude patriotic spirit with the Panamanian flag. It’s really made an impression on me.”
But this national emblem was not always so openly displayed. Secrecy once enshrouded the flag of Panama. The design was in the works even before Panama gained its independence, and Panamanians had to carefully conceal it from the Colombian army. Originally striped in red and yellow, the first flag of Panama was later replaced with the red, white, and blue one you see today. The colors of the Panamanian flag symbolize purity and honesty (blue), authority and law (red), and peace (white) – values that reflect Panama’s political ideals during its new nationhood.
November 5 – Colon Day
On this day in 1903, Panamanians in Colon stood their ground and averted a march on Panama City by the Colombian army. This event stands as a landmark in Panama’s history – it confirmed success of Panama’s separation from Colombia. Today, this holiday is celebrated in place of Colombus Day in Panama.
November 10 – The Uprising in the Villa de Los Santos
On November 10th, 1821, the Panamanian people of Los Santos leapt up and cried out for independence from their Spanish rulers. Though not officially the date of independence from Spain, this day pushed the process full-steam ahead. Once Los Santos secured its sovereignty, Panama City was forced to act, declaring full independence 18 days later.
November 28 – Independence Day
Free at last! On this day in 1821, Panama gained full independence from Spain. The country then joined up with Colombia for a tumultuous 80 years before finally becoming the independent nation we know today.
Get Your Gobble On
Are you an expat dreamily wishing for that turkey-induced coma you remember from your own favorite November holiday? Well grab your fork and knife, because the feast is about to commence in Panama. Many restaurants in Panama City offer a traditional Thanksgiving meal for their expatriate community (check out Dolce on Via Argentina and Pangea on Calle Alberto Navarro for a good starting point) so you can tryptophan the day away.
Once you’ve had your fill of the endless November celebrations (that’s right, everyone is expected to participate, regardless of age or nationality), you may need some help getting back into the swing of things. Try a few of these traditional cures: drink hydrating coconut water, try a little hair of the dog (milk with Seco liquor is a good choice), savor traditional sancocho (a soup with chicken and veggies), or have a good, filling Panamanian dinner.