November in Panama is chock full of holidays. Four of the most significant days in Panama´s history are in November.
There are parades and festivities galore. Plan for rain though. November is also the last month of Panama’s rainy season.
Also this is not a good month to try to get any paperwork done via a government office in Panama.
It is almost as if the government takes November through early January off, but actually they are open at times in those 2 months. But don’t plan on getting anything of significance done during November and December in Panama.
Day of the Dead – November 2nd
In Panama, the Day of the Dead, or el Dia de los Muertos, is not the huge festive holiday it is in Mexico and some other Latin American countries.
In Mexico, the day of dead is on November 1 and often extends into the rest of the week.
In Panama, it happens one day later, on November 2nd, and only for one day.
It is also officially a dry day on which you cannot buy any alcohol in stores or restaurants until after midnight.
On the Day of The Dead, Panamanians visit cemeteries to tidy up and decorate the graves of their loved ones.
Independence Day – November 3rd
This day is also called separation day. The day that Panama separated from Colombia.
History of Panama’s Independence from Colombia
The separation happened mostly because of the US wanted to build the Panama canal.
It was a peaceful 3 day rebellion.
Deal With Colombia Went South
In 1903, the US had negotiated a treaty, the Hay-Herrán Treaty, with Colombia. The treaty granted the United States use of the Panama Isthmus to build the canal. In exchange, Colombia would be compensated financially. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, but the Colombian Senate, fearing a loss of sovereignty, refused.
US Supports Rebellion
Frustrated, President Theodore Roosevelt gave tacit approval to a rebellion by Panamanian nationalists. These Panama “nationalists” were backed by the Panama Canal Company, a French-U.S. corporation, formed to build the canal.
The rebellion started on November 3, 1903.
Colombia had already granted the US the management of the railroad on the Panama Isthmus. To help the rebels, the US took the trains off the tracks in Colón which stranded the Colombian troops that were on their way to to crush the insurrection. The US also sent its warship, the Nashville, to the area which further dissuaded Colombia’s army from fighting the rebellion.
History of Panama Rebels in Colombia
Though to be fair, it wasn’t purely a US instigated rebellion.
From 1821 until 1903, Panama was part of Gran Colombia (which included modern-day Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador). But Panama wanted independence from Gran Colombia. In the mid-1800s, Panama tried and failed 3 times to separate from Colombia. Then for the 3 years between 1899-1902, a Colombian civil war broke out between conservatives and liberals.
So in many ways the Panama Canal Company didn’t need to instigate the rebels they simply needed to offer aid to the already discontented and defeated liberal leaders of the civil war.
1903 Timeline of Rebellion
- Nov 3 – Rebellion begins with US support
- Nov 6 – US officially recognizes the new Republic of Panama
- Nov 18 – Panama signs treaty with US – granting it exclusive & permanent possession of the Panama Canal Zone.
In exchange, Panama received $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000 beginning nine years later. The treaty was negotiated by U.S. Secretary of State John Hay and the owners of the Panama Canal Company.
Panama Canal Deal, Not Popular
Many Panamanians were not happy with their new leaders signing this deal. They thought of it as an infringement on their country’s new national sovereignty.
After decades of protest and negotiations, the Panama Canal passed to Panamanian control in December 1999. The pivotal protest that lead to US losing control of the Panama Canal is Martyr’s day.
What Happens On Independence Day
Most places will have a parade for both independence day and Flag Day, on November 4th.
The Drumming May Drive You Crazy
For months leading up to these parades you will hear the school children practicing the snare drum and xylophones. Most schools can only afford those 2 instruments. At the parade you will see school after school march by playing those instruments, more or less well. In Puerto Armuelles, we have one school, ESPA, that thankfully has a full band that marches too. It can get a bit much listing to the same music over and over again.
In yet another show of sexism in Panama, you will notice that only boys are playing the drums and only girls are playing the xylophones. I have never seen it otherwise.
The police and fire officiers also march in full dress uniform.
Like Day of the Dead, and most Panama Holidays, you can not buy alcohol from stores and restaurants on Independence day.
Nov. 4: Flag Day
You will see the Panamanian flag waving and hanging everywhere on Flag day. In banks, businesses, overpasses, car antenna, anything that can be decorated with a flag.
Originally striped in red and yellow, the Panama flag soon looked like it does today.
The blue in the Panamanian flag symbolizes purity and honesty, the red represents authority and law , and the white symbolized peace. Other people say the stars on the flag represent the country’s opposing political parties – blue for the conservative party and red for the liberal party – and the white background represents a goal of working together in peace.
Nov. 10: Uprising of Villa de Los Santos
It is known as the first cry of independence from Spain (Primer Grito de Independencia de Espana)
Since the Spanish conquest in the early 16th century and into the 19th century, Panama was an important colony for the Spanish Empire. The port in Panama City was of particular use for shipping off all of the treasures and resources that the Spanish plundered from Latin America.
As you can imagine, the Spanish governors were particularly not kind or just to the locals. One day the citizens of the small town of La Villa de Los Santos had had enough. On November 10, 1821, concerned villagers wrote a letter to Simon Bolivar. The letter complained about the Spanish governor and asked Bolivar for revolutionary assistance. Simon Bolivar was an important revolutionary hero throughout Latin America and was the President of Gran Colombia from 1819 to 1830.
Though not officially the date of independence from Spain, this day pushed the process full-steam ahead.
This day is primarily celebrated in the town of La Villa de Los Santos with a parade, which starts on Simón Bolívar Street.
Nov. 28: Independence Day From Spain
On November 28, 1821, eighteen days after Primer Grito de Independencia, Panamanians took the first step towards this sought-after independence. In an open town meeting in Panama City, it was decided that Panama would cut ties to the the Spanish empire.
However, after declaring independence from Spain, Panama was afraid the Spanish Armada would attack them to regain sovereignty. So Panama decided to join its stronger neighbor of Gran Colombia.
This turned out to be a costly decision.
What followed were years of neglect and isolation by the Colombian government. Eighty years later, on Nov 3. 1905 Panama also gained independence from Colombia.
Panama is blessed with gaining its independence from Spain, Colombia, and the US with a relative lack of violence.