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25 May 1810: Argentina’s first shout of freedom

Every 25 May Argentinians commemorate an event that is considered the first step towards the Independence of Argentina. This is known as the May Revolution of 1810. And it happened exactly 210 years ago.

At that time, Argentina was a colony of Spain, and Buenos Aires, the current capital of Argentina, was the capital of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata (Virreynato del Río de la Plata). This was a big territory that included the present-day Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay, and parts of Brazil.

Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata
Virreinator del Río de la Plata
Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata

Why is 25 May so important for Argentina?

Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros

At the head of the government of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata was Viceroy Baltasar Hidalgo de Cisneros who had been appointed by the Spanish Monarchy. This meant that the people of the Virreynato did not have any say in the political affairs of the country. Naturally, there was a group of people that started to resent that, and there were a series of events that lead to the May Revolution (Revolución de Mayo) on 25 May 1810.  

What was the cause of the May Revolution?

At an international level, the May Revolution was a direct result of Spain’s Peninsular War. In 1808, King Ferdinand VII of Spain abdicated in favour of Napoleon Bonaparte, who granted the throne to his brother Joseph. A Supreme Central Junta led resistance to Joseph’s government and the French occupation of Spain, but eventually suffered a series of setbacks that resulted in the Spanish loss of the northern half of the country. On 1 February 1810, French troops took Seville and gained control of most of Andalusia. The Supreme Junta retreated to Cadiz and dissolved itself, and the Council of Regency of Spain and the Indies replaced it. British ships brought news of these events to Buenos Aires around 18 May 1810.

At a local and domestic level, Viceroy Cisneros tried to maintain the political status quo, but a group of criollo[1] lawyers and military officials organized an open cabildo[2] on 22 May to decide the future of the Viceroyalty. On the one hand, delegates did not recognise the Council of Regency in Spain and, on the other, the government that had appointed Cisneros as Viceroy no longer existed. Therefore, they established a junta to govern in place of Cisneros.

In order to maintain a sense of continuity, Cisneros was initially appointed president of the Junta. However, this caused much popular unrest, so he resigned on 25 May, and the new government was formed. The Primera Junta included only representatives from Buenos Aires and invited other cities of the Viceroyalty to send delegates to join them. This resulted in the outbreak of war between the regions that accepted the outcome of the events at Buenos Aires and those that did not.

The May Revolution was the start of the Argentine War of Independence, although no formal declaration of independence was issued at the time and the Primera Junta continued to govern in the name of the deposed king, Ferdinand VII. As similar events occurred in many other cities of the continent, the May Revolution is also considered one of the early events of the Spanish American Wars of Independence.

How is 25 de mayo celebrated in Argentina

25 de mayo is a national bank holiday, and celebrations vary according to regions and provinces. When I was a child, there used to be big parades in the town centre… and there still are! All schools take part in the parades, each one headed by their own band. It was a real honour to belong to a band! Naturally, the members of the band were carefully selected; it required a big commitment, and hours of practice!

Parades also feature various groups of The Armed Forces, including war veterans, the School of Aviation, and the Police Force – among others. The Symphony Orchestra of the province usually presents a repertoire of appropriate songs for the occasion.

25 May celebrations in Córdoba, Argentina, 2019

A time for family and friends

25 de mayo is also a time to get together with family and friends, around a good table of food. Traditional meals, again, vary according to regions and even the weather! If it is a cold day, people may go for the traditional locro, and if it is a sunny day, most go for a good old BBQ … all the way! … with those delicious ribs, mollejas and chinchulines!!! Either way, the empanadas are unmissable!

And for those who feel peckish in the afternoon … mate with pastelitos. Yummy!! 😋

  • Traditional Argentinian BBQ
  • Argentinian locro
  • Argentinian empanadas
  • Mate with pastelitos

Celebrating 25 de mayo in the UK

Naturally, for most Argentinians who live in the UK, our families (parents, siblings, nieces, etc.) live far far away. But we definitely try to make up for it. There are a few Argentinian groups that promote cultural events and get-togethers of compatriots to celebrate this traditional holiday in the company of “family”. What you need to understand is that Argentinians are social beasts, and when we are with other Argentinians, we immediately feel at “home”.

Asadito familiar de 25 de mayo / family BBQ 25 May
Humble UK BBQ, Argentinian style

This year, 2020, however, was kind of atypical. COVID-19 forced us all to keep to ourselves and obey social-distancing rules. This has not prevented most of us from enjoying a good sunny day in the company of our loved ones, who, either through blood or bonding, have “adopted” some Argentinian traditions.

celebrating 25 May 2020
Celebrating 25 May with my family (the camera-shy have hidden away! 😉)

[1] criollo: a person from Latin American who is of sole or of mostly Spanish descent; such ancestry distinguishes them both from multi-racial Latin Americans and from Latin Americans of post-colonial (and not necessarily Spanish) European immigrant origin.

[2] open cabildo: a special meeting of city dignitaries of the city. The cabildo served the purpose of a town or local government council.

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