New Year’s Day (January 1): For most Dominicans, people tend to celebrate in the homes of family and friends, usually involving a great meal and spending time reflecting on the past year and their hopes for the coming year, and of course music and dance. However, there are a lot of people who celebrate out at clubs and restaurants as well. Leading up to this holiday, people do a deep cleaning of their homes. They get rid of the old things no longer needed, and then clean and repair everything to make new again. On New Year’s Day, it’s considered bad luck to even pick up a broom – it’s feared that you might brush away the good luck. Many Dominicans even believe in opening up doors and windows at the stroke of midnight to let the evil spirits out to make room for the good spirits. Some people hang 12 grapes to signify the 12 months. And like some other Latin countries, the color of the clothes you wear into the new year signifies what you truly want: green if you want more money, yellow if you want a better job or to work better, red for a better future or for love, white for better health, etc. I think I’m going to wear yellow and green this year.
Atira’s Birthday (January 6): I have found this holiday listed in a couple of places, but there wasn’t any information on this anywhere. I couldn’t find who Atira was or why they celebrate Atira’s birthday. January 6 also happens to be Three Kings Day, so I don’t know if there are any overlapping celebrations there. Please, if you know of any information on this, please let me know.
Our Lady of Altagracia (January 21): Our Lady of Altagracia is one of the patron saints of the Dominican Republic. The portrait of the Virgin Mary of the same name is held in the The Basilica of Our Lady of Altagracia in the city of Salvaleón de Higüey. It used to be held on August 15, but they moved this holiday to coincide with their victory over the French back in 1690. Every year, people will trek to Salvaleón de Higüey to view the portrait and spend the day in prayer, all-night church services, singing, dancing, and enjoying special meals.
Duarte’s Birthday (January 26): Juan Pablo Duarte is considered the Founding Father of the Dominican Republic. He was one of the leaders who led the fight for independence from Haitian control of their side of the island. After they officially declared independence, he was also declared the first president. Even though his birthday is on January 26, the holiday is celebrated on the nearest Monday to this day, and it’s often viewed as a day of national pride.
Independence Day (February 27): This marks the Dominican Republic’s independence from Haiti. Dominican flags are hung and everything is decorated in red, white, and blue. The president usually gives a speech, and parades march through the streets. In the Dominican Republican, Carnival celebrations pretty much last the entire month, so many of those celebrations overlap with Independence Day celebrations as well. I’m guessing this would be a great time to visit.
Good Friday / Holy Week (varies): The celebrations start at the beginning of Holy Week, or Santa Semana. Palm Sunday is celebrated with processions with palms. It’s common to wash your feet in the morning and at night on Maundy Thursday. Good Friday is the day in which there is the Procession of the Cross – some do it in the morning, others in the afternoon – but it’s always in the same direction that Jesus carried the cross. It’s also common that many people do not eat meat on this day, but rather people fix a dish known as “sweet beans” to share with their friends and family. Holy Saturday is spent without speaking, especially bad words, and children can’t be physically punished (I know mine would definitely take advantage of that). On Easter, most people attend a special Easter mass, followed by fabulous, elaborate meals shared with family and friends.
Labor Day (May 1): Although Labor Day is actually May 1, it is observed on the nearest Monday. For most Dominicans, it’s a long weekend of relaxing at the beach or doing some kind of recreational activity. Like most countries, it’s usually a time of thanking the worker and addressing labor issues. The Dominican Republic does have some problems with child labor in the agricultural industries and certain factory work as well. Unemployment, underemployment, income inequality, energy inefficiencies, migrant workers, and safety standards are all issues that plague Dominican workers.
Corpus Christi (varies): This is the Catholic feast day in honor of the last supper. This takes place 60 days after Easter, or the Thursday after the 8th Sunday after Easter. Many people attend special services at church in order to take the Eucharist, or Holy Communion. Many churches are decorated with flowers in honor of this day.
Restoration Day (August 16): This is sort of the D.R.’s second independence day. The first one in February celebrates their independence from Haiti. This one celebrates the beginning of the war with Spain, which led to their independence again. See, after they gained their independence from Haiti, they became part of Spanish rule again, only to have to fight for their freedom again. The war began in 1863 and ended in 1865. The largest celebrations are held in Santiago and in Santo Domingo, two of the oldest cities in the Americas. Festivities include parades, music, dancing, street performances, lots of local food and drink, and military parades. It's also celebrated in the Dominican diaspora, especially in the United States, where they have the annual Dominican Day Parade held in New York City.
Our Lady of Las Mercedes (September 24): This is the second patron saint of the Dominican Republic. Legend has it that when Christopher Columbus was trekking around the island, the Lady of Mercedes appeared and scattered all of the native Taíno people. Sounds a little implausible to me, but I suppose it’s because it’s a legend. There are a couple of churches erected in her name and people take special trips to visit these churches on this day.
Constitution Day (November 6): This holiday marks the day that the Constitution was signed in 1844. It was written up just after they gained independence from Haiti and was based on the Constitution of the United States. The holiday is generally celebrated with a military parade, an address by the president, and the playing of the national anthem.
Christmas Day (December 25): The Dominican Republic celebrates Christmas almost as long as the US does. They generally start around December 1 and go until January 6, which is also known as Three King’s Day. Many people sing Christmas carols, eat special foods made during Christmas season, decorate Christmas trees and exchange gifts with friends and family. A lot of weddings are held during this season as well. Many people display nativity scenes at the base of their Christmas tree as well as display special decorations made of wood and straw called charamicos. Christmas Eve is when most families have their large special meal with expensive alcohols and other specialty dishes and sweets.
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