Traditional Chilean Games for Fiestas Patrias/National Holiday

Events, Things to Do — By Bearshapedsphere (Eileen Smith) on September 16, 2010 at 2:29 pm

Chileans have a love/hate relationship with modernity, mostly love, if the highrises that grow across the city are any indication. Chile is one of the most wired countries in the world, and cellphone penetration is tremendous. Chileans love what is new and shiny.

But they also love their traditions, and on September 18th and the surrounding weeks, you will find children and adults alike, breaking out their manual dexterity to try their hand at a series of seemingly children’s pastimes from yesteryear which everyone still knows and loves.


Flying simple square kites on a single string from a large wooden reel called a carrete is all-ages fun for Chileans, and always in September. This month has some decent wind, but more than that, it’s the beginning of spring, when temperatures are agreeable for being outside, and barbecues spring up everywhere, and everyone remembers the national holiday for its kites, and so on September 18th and around, you’ll see both children and adults flying their kites high. Glassed-string occasionally makes an appearance, so you might want to keep your distance, but mostly it’s good, clean fun.

Ball and Cup/ Emboque

The Chilean version of this game involves a stick which you must use to catch the opening-side of a wooden “egg” or cup that dangles from a string. It involves a quick flick of the wrist, and there are competitions to see how many times in a row participants can catch the cup, and even do fancy tricks, including flipping it end over end before catching it. In a twist of fate that is rather unfair, adults tend to be better at this than kids, but it doesn’t stop them from trying.

Playing Emboque at a neighborhood fonda in Barrio Brasil

Photo used with permission from bearshapedsphere.

Spinning tops/Trompo

Ask any Chilean how to throw a top to make it spin and they will make a hand gesture which you will repeat endlessly but fail miserably to properly emulate. The tops are solid wood, have a metal tip, and a string wrapped around them. When you throw them properly, they will spin and travel along the ground, and in competition, take out lesser-spinning tops to win the prize.

Spinning top

Photo by ★ Eɳcɑɳto


Rayuela is a game of military origin, in which participants toss round disks made of lead or bronze towards either a line etched in the ground or a tensioned cord, earning points for doing so. These days it’s mainly played by the older generation, so if you want to impress friends and family, you might consider becoming a rayuela shark. You’ll surprise everyone.

Greased Pole/Palo Ensebado

While not strictly a game, this tradition that you may have seen at carnivals at home shows up in Chile as a competition at some of the fondas. It’s usually a young man who wins, by shimmying up the greased pole to grab the flag that’s on top. While you might want to participate in some of the other traditional games and pastimes, this is one that’s really better watched from a distance.

To find out more about Fiestas Patrias, click here.

To find out more about typical drinks for Fiestas Patrias, go here.

To find out about the location of the various Fondas, click here.

To learn more about the cueca, (Chilean national dance) click here.

Tags: Chile, emboque, Fiestas Patrias, games, kids' games, kite, National holiday, tops, trompo, volantín


  • Pepe - says:

    A great tradition with kites is that many Chileans love to make them by hand. Part of the fun is making your own kite and then trying to knock down those of others.


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