February 3 - San Blas Day in Paraguay

Posted on February 3, 2018

San Blas (or Saint Blaise) was a doctor, and all over the world many Catholics participate in the "Blessing of the Throats" and prayers for a year of health.

But in Paraguay, the day is even more special, because San Blas is considered the patron saint of that small South American country.

As a matter of fact, some towns and cities have weeklong celebrations, including religious services, parades, vendors selling arts and crafts, special foods...

And there are even bull runs (in which bulls have ribbons and money tied to their tails, and then they run through city streets) and bullfights (in which bulls face almost certain death at a matador's hand - honestly, a brutal sort of "entertainment"!).

What makes Paraguay special?

Paraguay is unusual among nations in South America, because nearly 90% of the people speak the indigenous language Guarani! More than half speak both Spanish and Guarani. It is certainly the only nation in South America in which a large percentage of non-indigenous citizens speak an indigenous language.

One of the crafts that Paraguay is known for is nanduti, which basically means spiderweb lace. This lace is embroidered in beautiful colors.

Sopa Paraguaya, or Paraguayan soup, is not soup! Instead, it's cornbread flavored with cheese and onion and other good stuff.

Rutherford B. Hayes was a president of the United States. Yet he is arguably more celebrated in Paraguay than in the U.S. Here, Hayes is little discussed, and only a few things, like a county in Nebraska and of course his presidential library and museum in Ohio, are named after him. But in Paraguay, there is the Presidente Hayes province, with Villa Hayes as the capital city, there is an official holiday on November 12, there is a soccer team named President Hayes soccer club (aka "Los Yanquis"), and a postage stamp.

Why-oh-why would Hayes be at all known in Paraguay, let alone popular?

Well, there was a land dispute between Argentina and Paraguay, and President Hayes served as arbiter of the dispute. Argentina and Paraguay sent diplomats to Washington for the binding arbitration, and Hayes chose to award the land, called the Gran Chaco, to the smaller, poorer, more indio nation, Paraguay.

That land is more than half of Paraguay's territory. So Hayes really made a huge difference for this country.

The triple border of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay is the location of the spectacular Iguazu Falls!

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