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Flag Day is the biggest holiday of the year in American Samoa. It occurs on April 17 each year. It celebrates the day that the island became a United States territory. The week-long celebration combines traditional Samoan culture with American patriotism. It is best described as the 4th of July with a twist. If you can choose when to visit American Samoa, you should choose the week of Flag Day.
Flag Day Festivities
While the Flag Day celebration actually begins the week before April 17, the large island-wide ceremony takes place on the 17th. It is held at the island’s only football stadium. The gala is an all-day event. Island dignitaries and VIP’s sit in a special section in the center of the grandstands. The celebration begins with a parade around the track. Participants in the parade include various village sports teams, ROTC units, community organizations, and even the employees of the Starkist Tuna cannery.
Once the parade is over, the performances begin. Groups from the different villages around the island take turns performing traditional Samoan songs and dances while dressed in classic outfits. Ceremonial gifts are also given to some of the dignitaries. This program is attended by many of the island’s residents. The local television and radio stations broadcast the events of the day. Additionally, you will find a wide variety of groups selling food and drinks, ranging from traditional Samoan dishes to more Americanized offerings.
Besides the big ceremony at the stadium, the other highlight of the Flag Day events is the annual fautasi races. You can read more in depth about the races here. These races are usually held a few days before Flag Day. Many of the villages on the island have a fautasi in the race. A fautasi is a long canoe-style boat that uses 50 rowers. They race from the airport to the harbor. The villages take great pride in their boats. The residents get very excited during the races. It is fun to watch 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 preceding the big day. Local businesses and community organizations set up booths daily in the Pago Pago Harbor area. This is a combination of a farmer’s market, business fair, and festival. At time, this same area hosts an arts and music festival where various groups perform traditional Samoan song and dance routines. Many of the larger stores hold sales to commemorate the holiday.
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 time. 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 to 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 they show that pride to its fullest. 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 a week. Happy travels.