This month the United States of America celebrates the 233rd anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, which announced the separation of 13 North American British colonies from Great Britain and was approved by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776. America’s Fourth of July celebration is just one country’s day of national significance. Many countries designate a particular day as a holiday intended to celebrate the country itself. Such holidays often, as in the United States, mark the day the country achieved independence from colonial power, but many mark other sorts of new beginnings–such as the start or completion of revolutions, the advent of new eras, or the establishment of new national principles or ideals.
National Independence Days
- Independence Day (United States): As the American Revolution proceeded during 1775-76 and Britain undertook to assert its sovereignty by means of large armed forces, making only a gesture toward conciliation, the majority of Americans increasingly came to believe that they must secure their rights outside the empire.
- Greek Independence Day: In celebration of Greek Independence Day, towns and villages throughout Greece hold a school flag parade, during which schoolchildren march in traditional Greek costumes and carry Greek flags. There is also an armed forces parade in Athens.
- Jamhuri Day (Kenya): The holiday formally marks the date of the country’s admittance in 1964 into the Commonwealth as a republic and takes its name from the Swahili word jamhuri ("republic"); it also marks the date when Kenya obtained its independence from Great Britain in 1963.
- Mexican Independence Day: On September 16, 1810, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Roman Catholic priest in the town of Dolores, issued the Grito de Dolores ("Cry of Dolores"), an announcement of revolution against Spain. He called for independence from Spanish rule, the equality of people from all classes, and the redistribution of land. Although Mexico did not achieve independence until 1821, Hidalgo and the Grito de Dolores became the symbol of the movement, and September 16 is now celebrated as Mexican Independence Day.
Days of Celebration Marking New Eras and Ideals
- Bastille Day (France): This marks the anniversary of the fall on July 14, 1789, of the Bastille in Paris.
- Revolution Day (Egypt): A public holiday celebrated in Egypt to commemorate the military coup of July 23, 1952, that led to the end of the monarchy and the establishment of an independent republic.
- Canada Day: Formerly celebrated as Dominion Day, July 1 marks the date in 1867 when the British colonies of North America were formally organized as a self-governing confederation.
- Day of Reconciliation (South Africa): The holiday originally commemorated a bloody victory of European colonists over the Zulus in 1838. In 1961, the military wing of the African National Congress chose the date to begin an armed conflict against the ruling government’s policy of apartheid. Under the first democratically elected government of South Africa in 1994, the day was named as the Day of Reconciliation, marking the desire for national unity and racial harmony.
- Juneteenth (emancipation of slaves in United States): The holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States, observed annually on June 19.
Leading Figures in Independence Movements
- Thomas Jefferson: As a delegate to the Second Continental Congress, Jefferson was appointed to the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence, which he completed in just a few days.
- Simón Bolívar: President of Gran Colombia and dictator of Peru, he was a soldier and statesman who led the revolutions against Spanish rule in the Viceroyalty of New Granada.
- Sukarno: The leader of the Indonesian independence movement and Indonesia’s first president (1949-66), he suppressed the country’s original parliamentary system in favour of an authoritarian "Guided Democracy" and attempted to balance the Communists against the army leaders. He was deposed in 1966 by the army under Suharto.
- Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: The leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule, he is considered to be the father of his country. Gandhi is internationally esteemed for his doctrine of nonviolent protest to achieve political and social progress.
- Golda Meir: A founder and fourth prime minister (1969-74) of the State of Israel. During World War II, she emerged as a forceful spokesman for the Zionist cause in negotiating with the British mandatory authorities.
At midnight on August 14-15, 1947, two countries gained their independence from Great Britain simultaneously. The partition of the Indian subcontinent, which had been under British control for centuries, created independent India and the new nation of Pakistan.