Here’s how to let your festive spirit roam!
Words by Pallavi Pinakin
Among the countless festivals across the globe, a few truly stand out and draw enthusiastic revellers in their thousands every year. These remarkable events range from the fairytale to the grotesque, the thrilling to the tranquil and the ancient to the new-age. If you’re an adventurous traveller, it’s worth planning ahead to be in the right place at the right time. Not only will you experience fascinating aspects of local culture but also meet kindred spirits from around the world. The relaxed and friendly ambience of these festivals is ideal for making new friends, and creating lifelong memories.
Equal parts contemplation and merriment, the Cherry Blossom Festival in Japan is a once in a lifetime experience. As spring arrives, thousands of cherry trees burst into bloom, transforming Japanese cities and towns into magical picture postcards. The festival centres on admiring and enjoying these delicate blossoms – be it solo or in the company of loved ones.
Places with cherry trees – public parks, riverside quays and main avenues – come alive with picnickers dressed in their Sunday best. Join the fun with your own basket of goodies or head to a quiet corner to meditate on the fragile perfection of the cherry blossom, which has inspired innumerable haiku poets and philosophers over the years. These flowers only last a couple of weeks, which makes them a precious treasure!
If you’ve watched Disney’s Tangled, you may remember the scene where hundreds of glimmering lanterns are sent into the sky by the joyful kingdom. The inspiration for that stunning visual feast is the Festival of Lanterns in Thailand’s north during which handmade lanterns are released into rivers and towards the sky. The result is a wondrous sight as thousands of glowing lights festoon the heavens and earth.
The festival runs over three days, and features traditional games, local contests, grand parades, authentic street food, boat races and many more fun activities. You can even make your own traditional lantern and release it at the designated time – a way of bidding adieu to past misfortunes and saying ‘hello’ to future happiness. The city of Chiang Mai is an ideal place to revel in this experience.
Día de Muertos (Mexico’s Day of the Dead) isn’t for the fainthearted! On this quirky two day holiday, skulls and ske-letons are everywhere – in decorations, and on floats to costumes and candy. But this is not an occasion for grief or hushed whispers. Mexicans believe that the best way to honour the dead is through a lively celebration of activities that the deceased enjoyed when they were alive. So eating, drinking, singing, dancing, and spending time with family and friends are par for the course.
In fact, it is said that the dead wake up from their endless slumber to join the festivities! And there are carnival style processions on the city streets, and graveyards turn into party spots as people clean tombstones accompanied by food, drink and music. Yes indeed, Día de Muertos gives one a whole new perspective on life… and death.
PAINT THE TOWN RED
Immortalised in many books and films, La Tomatina presents a glorious opportunity for anyone who loves the tart succulent tomato – as long as they don’t mind the mess! The event is held in the Spanish town of Buñol where hundreds of celebrators gather to hurl ripe tomatoes at one another in an enthusiastic but good-natured fight. Afterwards, the entire town is hosed down and the streets look brand-new thanks to the potent cleansing properties of the tomato. There are also paella cooking classes, plenty of delicious food and pop-up events for foreign visitors to experience traditional Spanish culture.
The festival dates back to a local brawl near a vegetable store in 1945 when the young brawlers had so much fun hurling ripe produce at each other that they returned for a second round the following year – this time, armed with their own tomatoes! And so La Tomatina was born.
The original bohemian playground, Burning Man continues to be a magnet for creative souls. Out in the Black Rock Desert in the US, fantasy is transformed into reality as thousands of people gather to build and inhabit a temporary city for one incredible week – after which all that was created is undone and whisked away.
Burning Man defines itself as a community where everyone connects, collaborates and cleans up after them. Self-sufficiency and innovation are at the heart of this commerce free experiment; in fact, you can only buy ice and coffee in Black Rock City. There are no corporate sponsors nor is there pre-booked entertainment. The entire experience from beginning to end is created by the participants who are known as Burners. Each edition of the festival also brings a fresh art theme. Past themes include Radical Ritual, Fertility, Floating World and Metropolis.