Why you should care
Because fêting freedom means good times, no matter whose independence you’re talking about.
Americans are an ethnocentric bunch. Independence Day, to us, means the 4th of July, of course. Celebrating the day, 238 years ago, when our forefathers formally declared they’d had enough of Britain’s King George III — by grilling meat, drinking beer and torching devices that flash, bang and fly through the air. Ah, Amurrrrica.
But billions of other people around the world commemorate Independence Day as well. Not on July 4, naturally. And it’s got nothing to do with bald eagles, British taxes or dumping tea in the Boston Harbor. But it does mark a day when these nations, too, shook off the yoke of erstwhile colonizers (Spain, Britain, France, Portugal, Russia: we’re looking at you) and took on the task of governing themselves. For Serbia, that dates to 1804, marking the country’s first uprising against Ottoman rule, while Eritrea has only been celebrating their Independence Day (from Ethiopia) since 1993.
While the dates and the histories differ, there are similarities across global celebrations: parades — everybody loves ’em — flag waving, food and fireworks. Here are OZY’s picks for some of the more interesting ways countries mark their day of independence:
Pakistan and India: sharing history
The South Asian neighbors celebrate a day apart: Pakistan on Aug. 14 and India on Aug. 15. That started in 1947, when the two countries were carved out of one British colony to allow the outgoing British viceroy to attend both independence ceremonies.
The two nations have since become bitter rivals, but in recent years, their consecutive Independence Day celebrations are embraced as a time to promote peace. Activists from both countries have met on the border between India and Pakistan to mark their shared history and engage in a transnational dialogue. Even the displays of nationalist fervor at the nightly Wagah Border ceremony, where citizens from both countries gather on opposite sides to cheer on high-stepping border guards as they lower their respective flags, take on a more communal tone. In 2013, officials on India’s side of the border brought sweets to present to their Pakistani counterparts in honor of their Independence Day.
South Korea: I beg your pardon
South Koreans also celebrates Independence Day — aka Gwangbokjeol or “Restoration of Light Day” — on Aug. 15. That’s the day in 1945 that Japan surrendered during World War II, ending the fight in the Pacific and liberating Korea from Japanese colonial rule. Of course, Korea had been self-ruled for centuries before the Japanese conquest.
In addition to the usual patriotic displays (Gwangbokjeol even has its own official song), it’s also a day when the South Korean government issues special pardons, primarily for petty crimes. A 2002 Korean movie, Gwangbokjeol teuksa (translated to English as Jail Breakers) spoofs the tradition, featuring a hero who’s been leading a model life in prison in hoping to receive one of the coveted pardons … until his girlfriend tells him she’s leaving him, at which point he throws caution to the wind and hatches a plan to escape from jail.
Haiti: the taste of freedom
Lots of countries have traditional foods they eat on Independence Day but Haiti’s meal of soup joumou might have the best backstory. Legend has it that under French colonial rule, native Haitians weren’t allowed to eat the pumpkin soup because it was too much of a delicacy for slaves. But after the Haitian slaves revolted and finally defeated French forces in 1803 — the only slave rebellion in history to successfully establish its own country — that all changed.
Now every Jan. 1, Haitians mark the occasion by sipping on soup joumou.
Ain’t freedom sweet?