This is my first Thanksgiving in Panama (I had returned to the US for a few weeks at this time last year), and it was especially festive because this year, Thanksgiving Day coincided with the 198th anniversary of Panama’s independence from Spain on November 28. There are several national holidays in November here, but this celebration is the grandest of all.
So it was a mixed bag this year, with American Thanksgiving festivities and Panamanian holidays intertwined. My celebrations began a week before Thanksgiving with a traditional meal with about 20 friends and friends of friends (both expat and Panamanian) at Retrogusto, an upscale Italian restaurant. The food was fabulous and plentiful, and the company was enjoyable also.
The following Sunday was the Grand Cabalgata, or horse parade. Panamanians are very proud of their horses, and this was a perfect opportunity to show them off. There is a significant expat community of horse people in Boquete also, and everyone came together in this parade that circled the downtown area several times. There were at least 200 or more horses involved, and there was a pickup dispensing rum and beer to the participants, ensuring everyone had a great time. I wrote in more detail about another cabalgata I attended earlier this year.
After dark on the evening before Thanksgiving Day, i heard drumming in the distance that got louder by the minute. It was the parade of the bomberos (firemen), carrying torches down the street. It was even more special because I didn’t know it was happening beforehand. Apparently, this parade begins just outside the north end of town, and they march all the way through Boquete.
“Desfile de Antorchas” (Torch Parade)
On Thanksgiving Day, bands from schools all across Panama had arrived and were marching in the parade that started at 10 a.m. I heard reports that there were 82 bands in the parade – that’s a lot of kids, and a lot of buses that brought them here! There were so many people, both participants and observers of the festivities, that officials had to create a plan for traffic flow around the parade route.
Unfortunately, it started raining quite heavily about the time the parade was to start, but I’m sure the bands marched on, rain or shine. The rain stopped around noon, so I took that opportunity to see the parade before meeting friends for Thanksgiving dinner later that afternoon. The crowds downtown were enormous, and were enjoying the spectacle immensely. Last year, I attended the parade on November 3 that celebrated Panama’s separation from Columbia, but this one was much bigger and lasted all day and into the night.
The bands were playing many more different instruments this time. In the last parade, it was mostly just drums.
I don’t know what school these young men and women represented, but I loved their call-and-response chant!
This is another thing I didn’t see in the parade last year – gymnastics!
Another beautiful bit of Panamanian culture at the parade – a traditional dance, with the lady wearing her pollera (dress) and beaded headpiece.
After enjoying the parade, it was time to have a Thanksgiving buffet with friends at Mike’s Global Grill. Mike is a great cook, and he served turkey (both smoked and fried), sausage dressing, mashed potatoes, green beans & carrots, cranberry relish, and pumpkin pie. All were delicious!
So it was quite a day – one to remember, and the celebrations make me love Panama even more!