May 18, 2020

Strength in Unity: Haitian Flag Day

As the weather warms and mid-May rolls around, preparations for a special Haitian holiday begin. May 18th is Flag Day in Haiti, and this year is the 217th anniversary of this national celebration of Haitian independence. This year also, understandably, promises smaller and much more reserved celebrations due to the global pandemic and social distancing policies in place around the world.

The holiday commemorates the birth of the first official symbol of Haiti’s independence, the Haitian flag. In May of 1803, at the congress of Arcahaie, revolutionary leader Jean-Jacques Dessalines tore a French tricolor into three parts to signify Haiti’s newfound freedom from it’s oppressors. After tossing out the white strip entirely, his goddaughter Catherine Flon, took the remaining red and blue strips and sewed them together, creating the very first flag of Haiti. At that time, the red and blue stripes were actually vertical, like the French flag, and it wasn’t until January 1st 1804 that the horizontal design we know today was made official. In 1806, the country’s coat of arms was added to the center, along with the motto “L’Union fait la Force“, or “Strength through Unity”.
For over two centuries thereafter, on the same day that Catherine Flon sewed the first flag, Haitian people dress in the same vibrant red and blue found in the flag and celebrate the day with grand parties, historical plays and colorful parades. Schoolchildren get the day off, and many participate in the parades. These elaborate parades consist of baton twirlers, rara bands, dancers and talented performers that act out intricate scenes from Haiti’s rich history.
Of course it isn’t just Haitian citizens that observe this major holiday. May is Haitian Heritage Month in the United States and Haitian diaspora across the country celebrate Flag Day every year. In places with large Haitian populations like Little Haiti in Miami for example, they often hold multi-day musical events showcasing Haitian artists, as well as multiple community festivals full of Haitian food and cultural exhibits that honor their shared history.
While the festivities this year may not be as grand as they normally are, May 18th remains a day of remembrance and significance to Haitian people around the world. It deserves a celebration, no matter how small, and a show of unity, no matter how separate we all must be right now. L’Union fait la Force.

You Might Also Like

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *