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Colorful Festivals Around the World

November 10, 2016

Colorful Festivals Around the World

Festivals are celebrations of a community, representing the unity and uniqueness of a particular group or region. From religious festivals to cultural celebrations, festivals are typically tied to historical traditions, carrying them on into the modern world. Featuring parades, live music, dancing, and partying, festivals can be fun and entertaining, or somber and poignant.

Festivals are a great way to experience a local culture and its traditions, meet locals at one of their happiest and wildest times. Some festivals are worth planning an entire vacation around. Here is a look at some of the most colorful festivals around the world.

Timkat – Commemorates Baptism of Christ

Timkat is an Epiphany festival taking place every year on January 19, commemorating the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan. In a country that is about 80% Orthodox Christian, the Timkat, or baptismal ceremony is one of its most important, lasting about three days. The best ceremony is in the city of Gonder’s Fasiladas Bath. The festival features ritual ceremonies, including a reenactment of the baptism. In the baptismal ceremony, Christian pilgrims jump into the waters, which have been blessed by the priest.

Following the ceremony, a procession of models of the Ark of the Covenant are colorfully wrapped and set atop the priests’ head, and paraded back to the church. Those involved in the procession are clergymen, who wear colorful and ornately embroidered robes, carry vibrant umbrellas, shining crosses, and images of Mary and Jesus as they dance and sing through the streets from the river to the church. Most of the onlookers wear all white, but the ceremonies are frequently decorated in the Ethiopian colors of red, yellow, and green.

Sinulog – Catholic Music and Dance Festival

Held on the third Sunday in January, Sinulog is a vibrant pagan and Catholic celebration featuring costumes, music, dancing, and a fluvial procession. As a strongly Catholic nation, the ceremony is a nod to the pagan history of the Philippines, and symbolizes their conversion to Catholicism after Spanish colonization. The Sinulog festival is held in Cebu City, and lasts nine days. The main events of the festival takes place on the last days, with an early-morning procession of the Santo Niño via boat, surrounded by colorful lights, flowers, and candles. The statue is brought to the town basilica, where ceremonies take place, after which the procession takes to the streets.

The word Sinulog means graceful dance in the Cebuano dialect.

The first of these Sinulog festivals was held in 1980, and over the years has become very popular in the country.

Carnevale – Goodbye to Meat

The first Carnevale celebration began in Venice, Italy, in 1162, and became a cultural celebration with elaborate costumes, parades, music, and feasts. The final day of Carnevale takes place on Shrove Tuesday each year, known locally as Martedi Grasso (fat Tuesday). This is a day of feasts and drinking. It is the last day before Lent, a somber 40-day period before Easter in which there are no celebrations or decadent foods, as Christians reflect upon the death and resurrection of Christ. The name Carnevale means “goodbye to meat,” as the celebration ushers in the Lenten season. Carnevale in Venice lasted throughout the Renaissance period but began to die out until it was revitalized in the 1930s as part of the local culture.

Celebrations take place in Saint Mark’s Square, at the heart of Venice, and include a beauty and costume pageant, and a competition for the most beautiful mask. Masks are an important part of Venice’s history and the celebration, and the colorful works of art are decorated in feathers and jewels, and can represent several characters.

Carnaval – Biggest Holiday in Brazil

Like the festival in Venice, Brazil’s Carnaval is a vibrant party before the start of the Lenten period of abstinence. Carnaval is the biggest holiday in the country. The Rio celebrations are attended by over five million people. Revelers travel from around the world to experience the wild street parties. Brazilians close down businesses during the four days of the celebrations.

The Rio de Janeiro Carnaval celebrations were brought over from Europe. The first celebration was held in Rio in 1723. Since then the celebrations have evolved and grown to become the one of the largest Carnival celebrations in the world. Many parades feature music and dancing and brightly colored costumes in groups called Blocos. The samba-school dance performances are held in the Sambadrome each night, where the participants, wearing elaborate costumes and surrounded by colorful floats compete for the various prizes.

Mardi Gras –New Orleans Version of Carnival

French for “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras is the New Orleans version of Carnival, which incorporates the French influences of the city into the pre-Lent celebrations, beginning on the Twelfth Night, January 6th, and especially focused on the two weeks before Ash Wednesday. Traditions of the New Orleans Mardi Gras include daily parades organized by Krewe – who design colorful and elaborate parade floats with various themes. The Krewe ride atop the floats as they travel through the streets and throw plastic beaded necklaces, doubloons, or various other small toys and fun prizes to the people along the route. Celebrations in the French Quarter, particularly on Bourbon Street involve wild parties and more raucous crowds.

Other events of the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans are masquerade balls and king cake parties. Purple, gold, and green are the traditional colors of this festival, which stand for justice, power, and faith respectively, derived from the Catholic tradition.

Holi – Ultimate Festival of Colors

The ultimate festival of colors, Holi is a Hindu religious celebration marking the arrival of spring. Holi celebrations typically take place in March each year, near the vernal equinox. The festival is celebrated across India (especially the north) and Nepal. Festivities include an explosion of brightly colored powder or liquid dyes in a playful no-holds-barred public fight, resulting in crowds coated in rainbows of color. The origins of the celebration lie in the Hindu legend of Holika, a story of good versus evil, in which the demoness Holika is burned, while devotee Prahlad is saved by the God, Vishnu. Holi celebrations include bonfires to ward off evil.

Major Holi celebrations take place in the City Palace in Udaipur, Delhi, and especially towns in Uttar Pradesh, which is known for being home to Krishna. Here festivities are held in Mathura, Nandgaon, Vrindavan, and Barsana.

Saint Patrick’s Festival – Greening the City

Saint Patrick’s Day began as a Christian feast day in the 17th century, commemorating the death of Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland. Patrick helped spread Christianity to Ireland, using the three-leaved shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity. Though the early celebrations featured the color blue, the shamrock became the symbol of the day, and the tradition has changed to center on the color green. People across Ireland and now the rest of the world wear outfits of green, which are decorated with shamrocks. The city is decorated with green lights illuminating famous places like Trinity College and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin. In other parts of the world, monuments such as the Sydney Opera House and rivers, like the Chicago River, are dyed green.

Saint Patrick’s Day is a national holiday celebrated in many countries, and celebrations are primarily secular in nature. In Ireland, the Saint Patrick’s Day Festival began in Dublin during the 1990s as a multi-day event to showcase the national culture. The event featured a parade with a variety of performers, pageants, live bands, and floats, attended by about a million people. Other major celebrations around the world take place in Montreal, Canada; Birmingham, UK, Selangor, Malaysia; and New York City.

Pasifika – Island Culture Festival

Pasifika Festival is a two-day festival celebrated by Pacific Islanders around the world with an international themed party on Saturday and religious services on Sunday. As the world’s largest cultural festival in the Pacific Island, the Pasifika Festival represents the villages of Pacific Islanders, including Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti, Tonga, Tokelau, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, Aotearoa, Kiribati, Niue, and the US island of Hawaii(joins for the first time in 2014), which can each be experienced in the 11 villages set up around the venue. Festival goers can take a trip around the Pacific Island nations all in a day, experiencing the local traditions, crafts, foods, music, and dance of each island nation. Each culture offers exhibitions with colorfully costumed dancers, decorated in tropical flowers, performing to live bands and choirs. A colorful fashion show displays the various traditional costumes of the Pacific Islands.

The event began in 1992, in its second year, drawing a crowd of about 20,000. It is now in its 23rd year and has over 1,000 performers and 300 stalls.

Koningsdag – Orange Madness Day

Koningsdag, or King’s Day, is the national holiday of the Netherlands, commemorating the birthday of the King Willem Alexander on April 27. The celebration was formerly known as Queen’s Day from 1885 to 2013, when it ended with the abdication of Queen Beatrix that year. It is held in cities across the country and is known for its massive free market (vrijmarkt), in which anyone can sell used items, and children frequently sell their toys. The free market in 2011 saw about 1 in 5 residents holding a sale, about half of the population making purchases, and total turnover of about 290 million Euro.

King’s Day and Night feature the country’s biggest celebrations, in which the partygoers are decked out in orange, representing the Royal House of Orange, in what is known as “orange madness” (oranjegekte). People are dressed in orange outfits, have orange dyed hair and relish on plenty of orange food and drinks. Amsterdam’s celebrations are the country’s largest, with close to 2 million attendees, and feature parties and family fun along the canals.

Glastonbury – Vibrant Music Festival

One of the world’s most colorful music festivals, Glastonbury is a three-day event featuring the top bands of the moment, all performing in one space. The summer music festival features about 30 venues, and hundreds of acts, from rock bands to comedians and circus acts, performing over a long weekend at the end of June. About 175,000 attendees arrive from all around the world to experience the world’s largest greenfield festival. The event is held annually, but skips about every 5th year.

Glastonbury Festival began in 1970, the day after Jimi Hendrix died, as a hippie free festival with about 1,500 guests, and has progressed to become a major summer music festival which has seen performances by top artists like The Rolling Stones, Beyonce, Radiohead. Attendees typically stay in tents at the onsite campgrounds, and the venues are decorated with artwork and crowds are typically colorful in every way.

Dragon Boat Festival – Commemorating Patriotism

The annual Dragon Boat Festival occurs around the summer solstice, on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, typically falling in June. The tradition began about 2,500 years ago, and the most popular lore for the celebration’s origin involves poet Qu Yuan, who protested government corruption by jumping into the Mi Lo River, China. The locals chased him in their boats, and when they were unable to rescue him, they threw rice patties into the water so the fish would spare his remains.

Today, the Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated with dragon boat races, which feature colorfully decorated canoe-like boats typically manned by a crew of 22 (but potentially anywhere between 10 and 80). The boats are often decorated with dragons, which symbolize masculine energy, like the summer solstice. Other traditions include snacking on rice dumplings, called zongzi, and drinking realgar wine.

The oldest International Festival Race is held in Hong Kong, which began in 1976. Outside of Asia, major dragon boat festivals take place in Malmo, Sweden; Vancouver, Canada; San Francisco, California and Boston, Massachusetts.

La Tomatina – Tomato Fight Festival

La Tomatina is a unique celebration, held on the last Wednesday of August each year, in the town of Buñol, Valencia, Spain. The festival likely got its start in 1945, at a parade in which those watching the parade began to throw tomatoes at the procession. Though police officers at the parade attempted to stop tomato throwers, however the people persisted and La Tomatina became an officially regulated festival in 1957. The festival begins with a competition to climb the palo jabón, a greased pole topped with ham. Once the ham is knocked off the pole, a massive tomato fight begins. The 2014 La Tomatina event had about 20,000 people, and about 130 tons of tomatoes being used.

Albuquerque International Balloon Festival – World’s largest hot air balloon festival

Held annually in October, the Albuquerque International Balloon Festival is the world’s largest hot air balloon festival. The festival started in 1972 as part of a radio station celebration with 13 hot air balloons and about 20,000 guests. The first celebration featured a balloon race, an event that persists even today. The following year, the festival grew to become an international celebration with the World Championship, continuing to grow to become the world’s largest event of its kind. By 2000, there were 1,019 hot air balloons at the event, decorating the skies with colorful and creative hot air balloons that are themed to resemble various characters and even companies. Today, the festival lasts nine days and draws about 100,000 guests every day, who watch the balloons get blown up and compete in various events. The Balloon Festival offers unique and colorful photo opportunities.

Junkanoo – African Heritage Celebration

Junkanoo is a festival in the Bahamas that includes parades, colorful costumes, music, and dancing. The event takes place on Boxing Day, which occurs the day after Christmas on December 26, and sometimes also on New Year’s Day or in the summer. Similar events are held in Miami, Key West, Belize, and other Caribbean locales. Nassau, Bahamas hosts the largest Junkanoo parade, and the day is a national holiday in the Bahamas.

The Junkanoo festival probably began as a special holiday for slaves in the Bahamas around the 17th century, as a day to celebrate African heritage and poke fun at the white slave holders. The holiday became a tradition that continued long after emancipation. Today, parades of people in colorful masks and crepe paper costumes, feathered headdresses, drummers and dancers rush the streets in troupes of up to 1,000, carrying banners, making music and competing for prizes like best costume.

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