Every region of the world, lauds its most interesting culture through grand parties, parades and often quirky events that you need to see to believe. From the elaborate Chinese New Year, to the stunning Carnival Of Venice, we list down some of the most culturally significant festivals celebrated across the world.
1. Chinese New Year
When: January to February
Where: Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines
The Chinese New Year is easily one of Asia’s most celebrated cultural events. This important Chinese month-long holiday falls in tandem with the lunisolar Chinese Calendar. The celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Eve, the last day of the last month of the Chinese calendar, to the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first month, making the festival the longest in the Chinese calendar. The first day of the New Year falls between 21 January and 20 February. Good fortune and hope are the backbones of this tradition, as people indulge in dragon parades, fireworks, lantern making and nightly staged shows. The festival is celebrated all across nations and territories of china, that have a sizable Chinese population (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Philippines) .
2. Carnival of Rio De Janerio
Where: Rio, Brazil
The world famous carnival in Rio is a fantastical, massive and chaotic congruence of Samba, costumes and non-stop partying. The carnival attracts over two million people in Brazil who take to the streets to witness and be part of the celebrations. A typical Rio parade includes adorned floats, elaborate Samba performances by Samba schools and a major Samba competition. This time of revelry is said to unite Brazilian people from all colours and races making it the epitome of Brazilian culture. Watch this curious and captivating documentary about the high stakes involved in curating and organizing this carnival.
3. Mardi Gras, New Orleans
Where: New Orleans, USA
New Orleans’ infamous Mardi Gras is a celebration in the form of uninhibited, debauched and hedonistic parties (prior to the season of lent) that are all inclusive of race, sex and culture. Translated into English as ‘Fat Tuesday’ (the day before Ash Wedneday), Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a big deal for the people of the city who vigorously participate in the family-friendly parades and Jazz music. Being a home to dozens of different races and dialects, New Orleans itself is quite culturally diverse, which is why it is beyond fitting that Mardi Gras is celebrated here. In unison with the hedonistic spirit of the festival, people don themselves in green, gold and purple – the colours that represent faith, power and and justice for all.
4. Carnival of Venice
When: January to February
Where: Venice, Italy
Much like Mardi Gras, the Carnival of Venice is a massive and grand celebration that takes place before the celebration of Lent. The festival celebrates pleasure and debauchery, but its main attraction and element are the elaborate Venician masks worn to the festival. As a pre-lenten festival, people of the city of Venice take great pride and pains to dress themselves in 18th century costumes and masks and roam the city. Adding to the mysterious and eerie charm of the festival, the masked people adopt strange alter-egos without being afraid of what society will say. They behave and act in abnormal manners, and act in accordance to the mask they’re wearing and the character they’re playing.
5. Saint Patrick’s Day
(Image Courtesy : Bilgin Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Saint Patrick’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Patrick is one biggest and widely known Irish celebrations Dedicated to honouring the patron saint in true Irish fashion, people wear green, drink way too much beer and deem themselves ‘lucky leprechauns’ in this absolutely delightful festival. Saint Patrick’s Day is a public holiday all over Ireland and is also widely celebrated by the Irish diaspora around the world, especially in Great Britain,Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, and New Zealand.
6. Kumbh Mela
When: Depends on the year
Touted as the biggest religious congregation in the world, The Kumbh Mela is as fascinating as it is chaotic. Frequented by babas and bhakts alike, the 58 day Indian festival is often referred to as a spiritual cleansing of sorts. The Maha Kumbh Mela brings in over 100 million people who gather in religious submission for the various ceremonies held during the event. Not just devotees, but people from around the world gather to witness this cultural spectacle. From people taking a dip in the holy waters to aghori sadhus bearing a whimsical sight to the country’s cultural studies, this peaceful gathering of people is one of the biggest proofs of India’s confluence as a religiously inclined nation, and is something the country should rightfully be proud of.
When: September – November
Where: All over India
Diwali or Deepavali, is the Hindu festival of light that commemorates the return of Lord Rama from war, thus celebrating the triumph of light over darkness. To signify this victory, people across India prepare for the festival extensively by renovating and painting their houses, buy new clothes and light diyas (lamps) inside and outside their homes. After a Diwali night puja people indulge in bursting crackers and enjoy a delicious meal of vegetarian food and sweets.
Where: All over India
Holi is the spring festival of India, that marks another triumph over evil in Hindu mythology. Holi celebrations start on the night before Holi with a Holika bonfire where people gather, sing and dance. The next morning is a free-for-all carnival of colours, where participants play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water, with some carrying water guns and coloured water-filled balloons for their water fight. Anyone and everyone is fair game, friend or stranger, rich or poor, man or woman, children and elders.
9. La Tomatina
August end marks the beginning of the very famous annual Spanish festival, La Tomatina. Held in the Valencian town of Buñol, the colourful and messy festival involves approximately 40,000 enthusiasts descending on the tiny Mediterranean town of Buñol to pelt each other with tomatoes. This festival has been representative of how crazy and wacky Spanish festivals are (Bull Fighting, anyone?) and comes with some interesting beginnings – a 20th century street food fight.
10. Winter Light Festivals
When: November, December, March
Every December, Japan is the place to visit if visually inspiring celebrations are your thing. The clear air and crispy weather makes it the perfect setting for light festivals like the spectacular Kobe Luminarie and Nabana No Sato.
Kobe Luminarie has quite the history. As some of you may know, the city of Kobe (known for its world class beef and being the birthplace of Kobe Bryant) was hit with a terrible earthquake way back in 1995. Because of its proximity to the epicentre of the earthquake, it underwent the most devastation to its infrastructure and local’s lives. The earthquake left the city without electricity and was incidentally immersed in darkness for a while. To lift the spirits of people and bring back some hope to the city, a light festival named Kobe Luminarie was started featuring lights donated by the Italian government. The festival including installations by an Italian designer Valerio Festi and Kobe resident Hirokazu Imaoka. Since then the festival, (because of its immense popularity) has been held every year as a reminder of the hope that follows every tragedy. By each year, the installations and production gets better as over three million people flock to Kobe to witness the grand festival.
Let us just tell you this, the Winter Illuminations at Nabana No Sato are beyond breathtaking. This five-month festival (from November to March) features the most lovely displays of light at a botanical garden in Nagashima. During the five months, the park is transformed into a visual paradise with millions of sparkling LED lights cast over massive gardens and water-bodies. From experimental ‘sunrise’ light shows, illuminated rainbows and captivating tunnels of light – the experience is magical. –
11. Boryeong Mud Festival
Where: South Korea
South Korea’s flagship ‘mud’ festival takes place in the heart of summer where millions of visitors celebrate and revel in the healing properties of the local mud!
The festival includes all the possible messy activities that can be associated with Mud – from mud wrestling, sliding, massages to even mud photo contests. The idea of the festival originated in 1998 as a promotional tactic for the mineral-healthy mud found at Boryeong. Boryeong mud is famous for its beneficial effects for skin treatment, so the tourism board and the manufactures of the Boryeong mud products teamed up and invited visitors to proverbially drown themselves in the icky stuff.
After that, it was just a matter of time before this beauty product became the main feature at a massively populated festival, in a small town of South Korea. Of course, the lovely warm weather and tropical setting was an added incentive for travellers, especially for those who hailed from cold countries. Although the fest is frequented by travellers, the get together is quite family friendly. You’ll often see kids and their parents descend on the beach with picnic baskets to watch all the ‘mud’ competitive activities on display.
12. Taiwan Lantern Festivals
Where: Chiang Mai, Thailand
This beautiful Thai festival of lights is a spiritual, ancient and sacred affair that invites new beginnings via spiritual cleansing, which turns out to be a spectacular show that people come to watch from around the world. Attendees converge to release the khom roi (lit lanterns) into the night sky, forming stunning displays of light. During this key ritual, krathong, or small floating vessels made from banana stalks decorated with incense, offerings, flowers and candles are released into rivers and other water bodies. The festival includes parades, musical performances, traditional dances, beauty pageants, lantern-making contests, and of course, a whole lot of amazing food!
13. Lewes Bonfire Night
When: November 5
Where: Lewes, England
Every year on November 5, Brits light bonfires and fireworks to remember their good luck in stumbling upon Guy Fawkes just before he attempted to blow up Parliament in 1605. Guy Fawkes’ Day, or Bonfire Night is celebrated throughout the UK, but no other place sees a more magnificent bonfire celebration on this night than the city of Lewes. There are 7 societies that organise torch-making parties, effigie-building committees and prominent bonfires in the city. They also wear similar-themed costumes, generally based at some point in Western history. Lewes Bonfire Night is a massive party with torch fires and processions that people actually prepare for and look forward to all year!
14. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Where: New Mexico, USA
The largest balloon event in the world started off as a small gathering of 13 balloons in 1972. Held annually during the first week of October, this massive balloon fiesta spans over nine days and attracts more than 700 balloons and 1000 pilots from all over the world. It has grown from a mall parking lot to a permanent site which is more than 350 acres! The Mass Ascensions is probably one of the most spectacular sights you could see – the sky looks almost kaleidoscopic with hundreds of balloons in the air at once! Apart from this, there is also the Special Shape Rodeo where you can see some of the most whimsical and uniquely shaped balloons – from soda pop cans to Darth Vader! After sunset, the sky is illuminated with balloons lit with propane burners that stand static and do not take off.
When: October (duh)
As far as cultural festivals go, Oktoberfest is a beer vacation that runs for 16 consecutive days, starting from late September till early October. What started off as a 4000 people wedding celebration in the 1800s, has turned into one of the biggest celebrations in Europe. Currently, an average of six million from all around the world flock to Munich to attend this festival with around seven million litres of Oktoberfest beer consumed. This year will be Munich’s 182st Oktoberfest, where millions of people will gather to drink and be merry!