Festivals occur all over the world at every time of year. I find it hard sometimes to really know which ones are worth going to and making the effort to see. These are my ten favourite festivals, with a short history as to where they came from and a little bit about what makes them so enjoyable.
My Top Ten Festivals
10) Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival- China
This is a relatively new festival, but one which I feel needs to be noted! It really is quite a spectacle! It has recently become and international event which rivals the older Ice and Snow festivals in Sapporo, Norway and Quebec!
This is basically a festival where lots of the worlds artists and sculptors gather in one place to display their artistic flair, prowess and skill by creating beautiful sculptures in the snow! There are three venues where people compete to create the biggest or most imaginative or most impressive sculpture.
This takes place in Harbin, which is fittingly called “Ice City” because it’s so well known for having some of the most brutal Winters around; not very pleasant to be in, but perfect for sculpting ice!
It’s one of the most impressive places to go, it’s completely different to most other festivals and is a really good experience to have.
Takes Place: 5th January – 5th February
9) La Tomatina-Buñol
La Tomatina festival is known around the world, every child and adult loves the concept. And why not?! What’s not to love about people gathering in the streets to throw tomatoes at each other until they can no longer walk and have to swim through the tomato puree they have created between them?
This is one of my favourite festivals partly because it’s really good fun (as all of these festivals are) but also because I love the story behind it! On the last Wednesday in August in 1945 a group of young boys got into an argument and started throwing everything they could get their hands on at each other. Handily, there was a vegetable market stall in the near vicinity and they grabbed them and started throwing them at each other.
The following year, the younger generations in the same area started a “fight” in the street on the same day and then began to throw tomatoes at each other. Those boys had started a tradition without even meaning to!
The festival has had a rocky relationship with the law and was banned for a number of years before protests meant it had to be brought back. The funniest part of the story for me is the protest that meant it was brought back once and for all. The people gathered in the street and staged a funeral for a large tomato. That’s right, for a tomato. I’m not complaining, it was a genius idea which now means that every year I have a great excuse to head to Buñol every year to enjoy the chaos that ensues for an hour.
Takes Place: Last Wednesday of August
8) Oktoberfest- Munich
Oktoberfest is another favourite of mine. There is nothing you can’t enjoy about being handed the excuse to drink excessive amounts of beer out of excessively large glasses and dress up in clothes that leave you feeling somewhat uncomfortably happy.
It wasn’t always just an excuse to drink and laugh at how bizarre the traditional German music sounds to us. It was originally a celebration that Prince Ludwig (later King Ludwig I) got married! To celebrate the occasion, being the generous man he was, he invited everybody who lived in Munich to come and enjoy the royal event.
It developed from there really, with horse races being added to the list of activities in 1811 and more and more being added as the years went on, until it became the huge international event that it is today!
So grab your Dirndl, Lederhosen and ready yourself for some big-volume drinking. This is a festival that should be on everybody’s to-do list.
Takes Place: the 16 days leading up to the first Sunday in October
7) St Patrick’s Day- Ireland
St Patrick’s Day doesn’t really need much of an introduction. Everybody knows about it; wear green, party at the pub and celebrate with a drink or twelve.
St. Patrick’s Day is, as the name suggests, named after the Saint Patrick (who was alive in the fifth century). He was credited with bringing Christianity to Ireland and in the centuries following his death, the mythology surrounding his life grew and grew until it became what we know today. Supposedly he is the person who explained the connection between the Holy Trinity and the Shamrock (three leaved clover).
St Patrick’s Day is now celebrated world wide, with New York and Boston housing some of the biggest celebrations. It definitely worth visiting any of the celebrations because the atmosphere is electric. I, however, go to Ireland because it’s where the tradition began, and it seems fitting.
Takes Place: 17th March
6) Carnival of Venice – Venice
I like Venice Carnival primarily because I love any excuse to dress up. This is the ultimate in dressing up for an occasion. People don traditional Venetian clothes, wear masks and dance through the night feeling frivolous and free. It’s a really traditional festival to go to, one of the oldest in Italy, in fact!
It began in the 14th century because of some laws the were made by the Serenissima, stating that masks could not be worn at night. Eventually it became known across the world and attracted tourists, who in turn spent a lot of money. At that time they spent money on things like gambling, brothels and illegal alcohol-like drinks.
Now it’s a lot more tame; so you don’t spend money in brothels, but you do still have a lot of fun dressing up, going to balls and drinking really fine wine. It’s another one that should really be on your bucket list!
Takes place: end January-mid February
5) Dia De Los Muertos- Mexico
Dia De Los Muertos is one gigantic party where everybody gathers together to celebrate death. This, to a lot of people, might sound like a slightly strange concept. The celebration of death is caused by beliefs held by the Mayans, Olmecs and Aztecs some 4000 years ago! The believed in the afterlife and that, when people died they didn’t cease to exist, their soul simply moved on to another life. Death wasn’t the end, simply a continuance of life, which is definitely cause for celebration.
Once the Spanish invaded Mexico, where the festival comes from, they tried to change the beliefs of everybody there. They failed, but both sides came to a compromise with regards to the Dia De Los Muertos and it is now only celebrated for 2 days a year, cut down from a significantly longer period.
Even now, the streets are filled with people who are dressed in bright colours and who decorate the streets with flowers, eat some amazing and hearty food and go for it like no other country does. It’s for this reason that you have probably heard of it. If you get the chance, definitely go to Mexico during this festival; it’s an experience you will never forget.
Takes Place: 1st -2nd November
4) Sky Lantern Festival- Taiwan
This festival is possibly one of the most beautiful festivals you will ever experience. Hundreds of thousands of beautiful lanterns being set off into the nights sky, lighting the dark backdrop as individual rectangles of fire.. it doesn’t get much more beautiful.
Apparently this tradition originates from the Xing Dynasty over 2000 years ago. It was a time at which gangs and outlaws would pillage villages which eventually forced villagers to run further into the mountains. The watchmen used the “fire balloons” as a signal to let the villagers know when it was safe for them to go back to their home.
If you go here, you definitely have to buy a lantern. It would be criminal not to. When you buy one of these, you are supposed to write your dreams and ambitions on it and then set it off toward the heavens so that you might achieve them.
This is a real live version of the film Tangled. It is simply breathtaking even to watch videos, imagine how breathless you would be in you were actually there.
Takes Place: February – March
3) Gay Pride – Amsterdam
I couldn’t not write about a festival in Amsterdam. The city itself is known for being one of the most vibrant and lively cities in Europe, if not the world. It seems fitting that it is Gay Pride that is at its best here.
This is another festival that is an amazing excuse to let loose and just enjoy being yourself. It takes place to symbolise the fact that everybody there believes that everybody; gays, lesbians & transgenders, should be able to live among one another and be safe and comfortable to show who they really are.
It is possibly one of the most uplifting parties to go to. You see people from all corners of the world with all sexual orientations enjoying celebrating their differences together. This, for me, is society at its best.
Takes Place: late July/ early August
2) Carnival – Rio De Janeiro
Carnival is possibly the most famous of all of the festivals across the world. Everybody knows that everybody gathers together to have a good time, try some samba dancing and that it is one of the best parties you could ever witness.
Carnival is said to have begun in around the 17th century. Nobody is entirely sure why it started happening and there is a lot of debate as to then when and why. What is generally acknowledged is the fact that the emergence of samba is what revolutionised this festival and transformed it into the epic dance party that everybody knows today.
This is one of my favourites because I love the sense of community that comes out of this festival. Everybody suddenly knows everybody and is more than happy to celebrate this period of time with people they may have never even met before. It’s a phenomenal experience, that you shouldn’t miss out on; another one that has to be put on the bucket list.
Takes Place: the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday
1) Holi – India
This is my favourite of all of the festivals. This is for the simple fact that it really is one of the most exhilarating, enjoyable and fun experiences you will ever have in your life. What is there not to love about throwing coloured powder at both your friends and strangers, covering them in coloured water and dancing under water sprinklers?
This festival is to commemorate the victory of good over evil by burning the demoness Holika which was done through devotion to Lord Vishnu. The “Festival of Colours” is so named because Lord Krishna liked to play pranks on the village girls by drenching them in water and coloured powder.
This is possibly the most light-hearted of the festivals. Everybody goes there with the intention of having a good time and making plenty of new friends. If you go to one festival in your life, this is the one I could wholeheartedly recommend you consider.
Takes Place: day after the full moon in March
Those are my favourite festivals around the world. That’s not to say that others aren’t as good, or that some of you may prefer other ones. These are simply the ones whose messages are really lovely, or whose beauty is simply too beautiful to be ignored. Between all of these you have fun, beauty, long history and some really hilarious reasons for the festivals. It covers everything you could want from any festival.