Festivals are probably the greatest way to get a taste of the joyous spirit of a town or a country. It fuels the wanderlust and instills an urge to tick off those few places in one’s bucket list. Be it art, culture, celebration is what people have been doing for centuries and it’s to stay till mankind exists. Here we listed down 10 of the world’s biggest cultural festivals you should never miss out.
- La Tomatino
This is probably a festival which people of every age might have got an urge to visit after watching the fun filled drama it has to offer in movies or numerous series. No wonder it’s one of the world’s famous festivals. Known as the “World’s Biggest food fight festival”, it is held on the last Wednesday of August each year in the town of Bunol, Spain. One hundred metric tonnes of tomato are used to celebrate this. It’s like the festival of Holi celebrated in India, the exception being the colour is red because of all the tomatoes. It has been an age old tradition in Buno since 1944 or 1945. The festival is celebrated to honor Luis Bertran and Mare de Due dels Desemparats, title of the Virgin Mary. Being in the thick of the action filled festival, it a promised fun-filled festival which will long be in one’s memory as the answer to “The day you enjoyed the most”.
Taking place in the one of the most happening destinations in world, Rio de Janeiro, it is rightly known as “the greatest show on Earth”. It is a religious Brazilian festival held over five days preceding the Catholic season of Lent. It’s a raucous two day long show where nearly five million people come to see the top 12 Samba schools competing for the grand prize. It’s a classic mix of Brazilian culture with a hint of moderness blended in. It is believed that this festival started from Roman Catholics when they abstained themselves from having meat or alcohol as an effort to get themselves away from bad things in life. The show consists of a major parade going through crows of millions of people who join in the parade with beautiful Samba dancers atop a spectacularly decorated moving vehicle. It’s a festival in the blood of Brazilians where they close shops and come to celebrate life, full-fledged.
3. Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras is a cultural festival to behold. Celebrated in New Orleans, Louisiana, it is held every year on the day before Ash Wednesday. It is a religious date where people stuff themselves with food before the days of fasting begin, hence called “Fat Tuesday”. One will find themselves exploring the French Quarter entertained by marching bands performing jazz. The elaborate costumes and delicious food just add more to the marvel. It is not like any other festival. It’s a celebration of life where people of all ages celebrate, laughing and expressing themselves, be it art, music or dance. One will only find love and positivity all around. One of the main highlights of the event is the parade of The Krewe of Bacchus where people line up on the streets as the floats throw down everything – from beads to stuffed toys. Mardi Gras is the right amount of weird and fun blended well.
4. Harbin International Ice& Snow Sculpture Festival
While on one end, the end of Carnival festival in Brazil marks the end of the scorching heat, the festival of International Ice and Snow makes the best use of the bitter winter weather in Harbin, China. The temperature drops to -31 degree Fahrenheit! One question which may come in the mind is why would someone want to visit the place at all during the harshest cold months. The answer is because it’s home to the largest ice sculptures in the world. It spans over 600,000 square metres of area and include more than 100 landmarks. The huge illuminated ice castles are not the only thing to be feel awed at, other highlights include a spectacular snow Buddha statue, 3D light show and a Northern Lights-themed ice slides.
Diwali, the festival of lights, is a much loved festival by people from all around the world. It ushers a period of merriness which includes dressing up fine, gorging on delicious food and lighting crackers. It’s linked to history and culture of the people celebrating it, mainly Hindus, Sikhs and Jains. To honour the homecoming of Lord Ram, after vanquishing the demon Ravan, the people of his kingdom lit his path with oil lamps to guide his way. It’s a festival which celebrates the concept of Good over Evil. The colourful fireworks turn the night sky into a kaleidoscope of hues. Related to this is also the day of Dhanteras, which is considered to be an auspicious day for purchasing gold, silver or steel. On the day of Narak Chaturdashi, people wake up at 3 AM. Women bathe with utan, a mix of ayurvedic herbs and oils. The sound of firecrackers can be heard full on by 4 AM and only stop after sunrise. Followed by this is Lakhsmi Pujan where the goddess of wealth and prosperity is worshiped to seek her blessings. The house is made impeccably clean during Diwali as it’s considered that the goddess only visit houses which are clean and orderly.
6. Black Necked Crane Festival
Celebrated in a landlocked country which measures it’s growth by “Gross National Happiness”, Bhutan celebrates the festival of Black Necked Crane Festival annually to honor Bhutan’s avian visitors who come from their summer home in the Tibetan region. Not only people, numerous birds too come in great numbers. It’s a festival where an array of folk songs and dances, kids in crane costumes and masks and plays remind the importance of environmental conservation. The view of cranes flying overhead only makes the scene more celebratory and happy.
7. Naadam Festival
If Mongolia had its own Olympic ceremony then the Naadam festival would be it. Held in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia, it is a festival thought to date back centuries when the Qing dynasty used to rule. The age old primary sports of archery, horse racing and Mongolian wrestling are played with new vigour on this day. The festival begins with an opening ceremony that includes dancers, musicians, horseback riders and other athletes. The wrestling event hosts 500 to more than 1000 wrestlers competing. The horse racing is a cross-country event where more than 1000 horses run 10 to 17 miles. The arching event sees competitors of both male and female trying to head targets known as surs, located at 65-75 metres away. It’s an extraordinary event which was included in UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010.
Derived from the Sanskrit word for “astrological passage”, the traditional New Year celebrated on April 13th in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The day starts with families visiting the local Buddhist temples to offer food to the monks. Water is poured on the statues of the Buddha, young children and the elderly as a symbolic ritual of purification. The houses are cleaned and everyone, from the youngest to the eldest, dress up in their best clothes. Tribute to ancestors are paid. While some regions host parades and beauty contests to celebrate the festival, some set off fireworks in hopes of keeping away the bad luck in the New Year. The Songkran festival may not be well known outside Asia if it wasn’t for the young people fighting in the World’s biggest water fight. Water balloons and Super Soakers are everywhere and no one is spared, so basically everyone is guaranteed to get drenched!
9. Timket Festival
Happening in the birthplace of coffee, Timket Festival takes place in Ethiopia. It’s a 12-day long celebration offering travelers a chance to get a view of Ethiopia’s greatest cultural marvels. A ritual reenactment of baptism of Jesus takes place in Jordan River. People renew their baptism vows. Another major ceremony of this festival is the procession taking place where Tabot (model of Ark of the Covenant) is wrapped in fine cloth and carried on head of a priest. After the Tabot comes back to the Church, the festival becomes a more jubilant affair. In the streets it’s a celebration of music and dance. Everyone is seen in their best clothes, which is usually white, with gold crosses, and carrying umbrellas consisting of every color of rainbow. The procession is made rich in colors and sound – just as Ethiopia herself.
10. Fes Festival of World Sacred Music
It’s one of the biggest World Music Festivals on the planet. It was launched in 1994 in Morocco and the primary mission is to celebrate the ancient Moroccan city of Fes with its rich traditions in arts, knowledge and history. It features around 60 different shows and concerts with a promised lineup of some fantastic artists each year. The best part are the Sufi Nights which feature sacred music. It carries an ancient feeling of magic and mysticism. The Moroccan city’s influence dates back to Medieval times when Popes went there to study and teach. The concerts which take place are arranged in the historically significant venues. The Fes Festival was recognised by the United Nations for its contributions in creating a dialogue between contrasting cultures around the world. It is held in June and attracts over 100,000 attendees.