A Quiet August Festival

 If you live in El Salvador or have visited El Salvador, perhaps you have experienced Las Fiestas Agostinas - The August Festivals.  

In my native Milwaukee vernacular, I would say Las Fiestas Agostinas are like a mash-up of State Fair, summer festivals, the Great Circus Parade and a trip up north. Oh, and Jesus. For the Christian faithful, the central focus is (or sort of is) Jesus.

The August festivals are centered around the fiesta patronal or patron saint celebration in San Salvador. The patron saint of San Salvador is Jesus, Divine Savior of the World, and this manifestation of Jesus is celebrated specifically on August 6th with a solemn mass in the Metropolitan Cathedral. August 6th is a national holiday throughout the country.  

In the capital city, there are 3 locally designated celebration days when streets and parks host all kinds of special events, a big midway is set up in the Estadio Cuscatlán parking lot and a circus appears in a nearby empty lot. August 3rd is typically the day designated for a large festival of commerce. On August 5th, pilgrims march with a statue of Jesus from the Basilica of the Sacred Heart to the Metropolitan Cathedral, where each year there is a dramatic representation of the transfiguration of Jesus.

In 2021, there was no midway, no big gatherings, no pilgrimage. The solemn mass was held on this August 6th in the Metropolitan cathedral, with participants wearing masks. Today, the streets of San Salvador were very, very quiet.

Divine Savior of the World statue and plaza - August 6, 2021

For Lutheran Salvadorans, the August festivals include a national youth assembly, the national women's assembly, the celebration of several congregational anniversaries, ordinations and worship in the Lutheran cathedral in honor of the anniversary of the office of the Bishop.  On August 6th, Lutherans march through the streets of San Salvador, from Parque Cuscatlán to Resurrection Lutheran Cathedral, where there is a big outdoor party with speeches, presentation of banners made by each church, music and food. Later in the afternoon, everyone gathers for a traditional corn festival.

In 2021, smaller women's assemblies were held in the micro-regions. A few youth representatives from each region met in San Salvador for a small national assembly.  On this August 6th, there was no march through the streets nor corn festival. Worship was held in Resurrection Cathedral with representative pastors participating. Each congregation was invited to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the office of the bishop in their own way on August 1st.

Happy 35th Anniversary to Bishop Medardo Gómez
August 1, 2021

Women's Assembly in the North - August 3, 2021

For many Salvadorans, and especially students, the August Festivals translate into las vacaciones or vacation - a week when schools, banks, government offices and businesses are closed. Many families use this time to get away and spend time at the beach or stay up in the mountains.  A week prior to the vacations, my newsfeed ads (for local Salvadoran stores) were promoting sleeping bags, tents and grills for cooking asadas (grilled meat) for family gatherings. I think this is pretty funny because I actually do love camping, but have never camped in a tent in El Salvador.

A week ago we sat for good long while in a typical traffic jam.
Not today. August 6, 2021

Over the past 21 years, I have participated in many August festival events, often as a member or leader of a delegation from the US.  The flurry of August events can be exhausting, as well as great fun. On this August 6th, we met up with friends at an open-air restaurant in Apopa. It was quiet in the restaurant. The ride to and from Apopa was quiet. 

One place which has not been quiet is the vaccination station at Hospital El Salvador.  The COVID-19 vaccination was just made available to children ages 12 and up. The news has been reporting that the lines are filled with youth who want to be vaccinated.  People who had trouble getting off of work or who didn't want to miss a class in order to be vaccinated were encouraged to take advantage of this vacation time. Hopefully the promotion will result in a significant increase in the vaccination rate. El Salvador definitely does not want to go into another extreme lockdown.

It seems to me that during this 2021 August vacation, most families are spending time together, getting out for a respite in nature or staying at home.  The nights seem quiet without the usual ruckus of fireworks. I see lots of folks doing small home repair projects. Families that depend on an August surge in internal and international tourist commerce are surely struggling. Yet, my friends who sell things for their livelihood are optimistic about the coming months.

Happy August 6th, everyone! Let's hope next year brings back the festivities we love, but also retains some of these good, relaxed vibes. 


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