Panama celebrates thirteen public holidays. Panamanian holidays include traditional world holidays such as New Year’s Day (January 1st), Flag Day (November 4) and Mother’s Day (December 8). As a predominantly Roman Catholic country, Panamanians keep several religious holidays like Holy Friday (the Friday of Roman Catholic Holy Week) and Christmas (December 25). In addition, Panama acknowledges certain dates in its own history and commemorates these with special holidays. These include: Martyr’s Day (January 9), Separation Day (November 3) and Independence Day (November 28).
Here is the full list of Panamaian holidays:
January 1 – New Year’s Day
January 9 – Martyr’s Day
Monday Before Ash Wednesday – Carnival Monday
Tuesday Before Ash Wednesday – Carnival Tuesday
Friday of Holy Week – Holy Friday (Death of Christ)
May 1 – Labor Day
November 3 – Separation Day
November 4 – Flag Day
November 5 – Colon Day
November 10 – The Uprising in the Villa de Los Santos
November 28 – Independence Day
December 8 – Mother’s Day
December 25 – Christmas
Martyrs’ Day takes place on January 9th each year. This holiday commemorates the day in 1964 when 200 Panamanian high school students marched to Balboa High School in the United States’ Canal Zone. These students came from the Instituto Nacional, Panama’s top public high school. They were protesting the Balboa High School students’ action of raising the US flag in the Canal Zone school.
About a year prior, US President John F. Kennedy, in an effort to quell tensions between the “Zonians”, US residents and supporters living in the Panama Canal Zone, and other Panamanians had decreed that the US flag could be raised in conjunction with the Panamaian flag in non-military sites within the zone. Then, the Panama Canal Zone Governor Robert J. Fleming limited the order. He ordered that neither flag would be raised at schools, police stations, post offices or other civilian locations where it had previously been flown.
The students at Balboa, who were Zonians, raised the US flag. The school ordered it taken down. Then, they walked out of class, re-raised the flag and posted guards to prevent its removal. The students from the Instituto Nacional went to Balboa to raise Panama’s flag alongside the US flag. After arriving at Balboa High School, a confrontation between the Panamanians and Zonians broke out. The flag the Panamanian students were carrying was torn.
At this point, angry crowds formed along the border between Panama City and the Canal Zone. A riot broke out and Panama’s National Guard was called in. Conditions only deteriorated throughout the day. Shots rang out in the sky, killing a total of 22 people and wounding an additional 500 others.
CARNIVAL IN PANAMA
Panama’s Carnival celebrations take place the four days prior to Ash Wednesday. Commemorated since the early 1900s, Panama’s Carnival is the second largest in the entire world? The main streets of Panama City and Las Tablas, where the bulk of the celebrating takes place, fill up with parades, costumes, floats, masks, confetti and, of course, revelers. The highlight of many celebrations includes the selection of the Carnival Queen and her attendants.
Visitors to Panama during Carnival are encouraged to book their accommodations well in advance. During carnival work comes to a complete stop (more or less). Many restaurants are closed, car rental agencies have no inventory available and many services are just not available except, of course, in large hotels, which are usually multinational. Even the bars are closed!
SEPARATION DAY & COLON DAY
On November 3, 1903 Panama formally separated from Colombia and established the Republic of Panama. Since declaring independence from Spain in 1821, Panama was part of the Republic of Gran Colombia. However, Panama tried to claim its independence several times during this period. Finally, with the assistance of the United States, the country became an independent nation in 1903. Panamanians celebrate this day with parades.
Colon Day is Panama’s version of Columbus Day. It is celebrated on November 5th each year.
UPRISING IN VILLA LOS SANTOS & INDEPENDENCE DAY
November 10th is the day that Panamanians remember the ‘uprising in Villa Los Santos’. On this date in 1821 the citizens of Los Santos in Panama’s southernmost province declared their independence from Spain. They preempted Panama City’s decision to become independent of the colonial power. However, the declaration urged Panama City to act. A meeting was held in the capital city and the decision was made for Panama to formally declare its independence on November 28th that same year. Panama became part of Colombia just a few weeks later.