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Flag Day is the biggest holiday of the year in American Samoa. This “4th of July with a twist” holiday celebrates the day that the island became a United States territory. Even though Flag Day is on April 17 each year, the celebration lasts a full week. This is the perfect marriage of traditional Samoan culture and American patriotism.
When planning your trip to American Samoa, definitely consider going during the week of Flag Day. It will give you a chance to see the Samoan culture on full display.
Flag Day Festivities
Flag Day events usually begin the week before April 17. These include fautasi races, an art and music festival, and other activities. But, the biggest event of the week is the island-wide ceremony.
Island Wide Ceremony aka the Official Flag Day Celebration
The large island-wide ceremony takes place on the 17th. It is held each year at the island’s only football stadium. This celebration is an all-day event. It is a big deal for the island.
Many island dignitaries and VIP’s attend the event. This includes the governor, lieutenant governor, the chief justice of the island’s High Court, directors of various government departments, and off-island visitors, such as the United States Secretary of the Interior and high ranking government officials from neighboring Samoa.
These VIP’s sit in a special section in the center of the grandstands. Ceremonial gifts are also given to some of the dignitaries.
The celebration begins with a parade around the track. Participants in the parade include the employees of various government departments, village sports teams, ROTC units, community organizations, and even the employees of the Starkist Tuna cannery.
Once the parade is over, the cultural performances begin. Groups from the different villages around the island take turns performing traditional Samoan songs and dances while dressed in traditional outfits.
Additionally, you will find a wide variety of groups selling food and drinks, ranging from traditional Samoan dishes to more Americanized offerings.
This program is attended by many of the island’s residents. The local television and radio stations broadcast the event live most of the day.
The other highlight of the Flag Day celebration is the annual fautasi races.
A fautasi is a long canoe-style boat that uses 50 rowers. Samoans have been using them for centuries.
These races are usually held a few days before Flag Day. Many of the villages on the island have a fautasi in the race.
They race from the airport to the harbor. So, there are lots of places to sit along the shore and watch the races. But the harbor is the best place.
The only hard part about watching the race is that the start times are completely dependent on the weather and the tides. So, the times are subject to change and usually do! Sometimes they start earlier than announced. Sometimes, the start is delayed by minutes, hours, or even days!
The villages take great pride in their boats. Locals get very excited during the races. Winning the fautasi race gives you bragging rights for an entire year!
The excitement is electric! It is so much fun to watch the race and take in the atmosphere. It reminds me of a big football game back in the United States.
Other Flag Day Events
There are other Flag Day events that take place during the week leading up to the big day.
Local businesses and community organizations set up booths daily in a park in the Pago Pago Harbor area. This is a combination of a farmer’s market, business fair, and festival.
At times, this same area hosts an arts and music festival where various groups perform traditional Samoan song and dance routines.
Additionally, many of the larger stores hold sales to commemorate the holiday. This is similar to stores in the United States having sales for Memorial Day, President’s Day, or Black Friday.
The locals go all out to decorate for Flag Day. It reminds me a lot of what you see in the United States during Christmas or July 4th.
Many businesses and government offices decorate their buildings in red, white, and blue. You will also see lots of American Samoa and American flags flying around the island.
For the big day, almost every tree, pole, and fence post along the main roads are wrapped in coconut branches. Some of them have tropical flowers stuck in them as well.
It all combines to create a beautiful and festive feel across the island.
Most people in the world have never heard of Flag Day. Yet, for the people of American Samoa, it is the biggest holiday of the year. It is the day they celebrate the island becoming a United States territory.
The locals are very proud to be American. Flag Day is the day that pride is showed to the world at maximum capacity. The holiday is a seamless blend of American patriotism and traditional Samoan culture put on display for all to see.
It is a fun and unique holiday that this island takes seriously. It is the perfect way to experience the history and traditions of this island in one short week.
For more things to do in American Samoa, see my posts on:
- Goat Island Cafe
- Blunt’s Point
- Airport Beach
- Local’s Tips for Visiting American Samoa
- Turtle and Shark
- Best Restaurants in American Samoa
- Mount Alava
- Best Hikes in American Samoa
- Things to do with kids
- Most scenic spots in American Samoa
- Awesome things to see
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