Today, we do business and live life on an international stage. Linguists know something that many are just now understanding: learning new languages, desiring to understand new cultures actually brings us together.
At True Language, we know language unites people. Just by seeking to understand the differences of those we meet globally says, “I want to get to know you better.”
Experiencing cultural traditions of others opens your mind to knowledge and new understandings that broaden your horizons for life. So, make plans to travel to destinations around our globe that are colorful, fun, unique and certainly culturally different. A great way to experience another culture is through a festival. Several hundred festivals take place all over the world every month – there are plenty to choose from!
Getting people together is at the heart of what we love to do. The following is a short list of some notable cultural festivals of the world—there is something for everyone!
1. Holi, The Festival of Colors — India
A Hindu celebration of the triumph of good over evil and the arrival of spring, Hindus and non-Hindus alike celebrate Holi around the middle of March by dancing, playing music, having spirited water fights, and covering each other with brightly colored powders called gulal. Holi is also a time of clearing the air, setting the stage for a positive year of growth, and giving your emotions a reset. Grudges are dropped, differences are patched up, fences are mended, debts are paid or forgiven, old friendships are renewed, and new friendships are started. Which all makes sense, since it’s probably tough to stay angry, sad, or otherwise negative when everyone in sight is wet and covered in weird colors.
If you’d like to throw some gulal next year, but can’t manage a flight to India, cities all over the United States throw their own Festivals of Colors, too – the Holi celebration at Sri Sri Radha Krishna Temple in Spanish Fork, Utah is said to be the largest one in the world.
2. Dia de los Muertos — Mexico
This is less of an active festival, more of a meaningful holiday dedicated to honoring the memory of those who have passed; in English it’s known as the Day of the Dead. It’s a public holiday in Mexico, but if you live in any area with a significant Mexican population you may be able to observe it. The Day of the Dead falls on November 2nd, two days after Halloween and one day after All Saints Day. On those two days, the spirits come and visit the living – on the last day, it’s our job as the living to visit them. Colorful altars called ofrendas are put up in private homes to commemorate lost loved ones, and elaborate floral arrangements are placed in graveyards. Offerings of food, drink, and flowers are left for the spirits to enjoy, including bright orange marigolds (the traditional flower of the dead) and the famous sugar skulls called calaveras.
Like Mardi Gras, the Day of the Dead has an unmistakable look, style, and color scheme; you’re probably familiar with it thanks to movies like Pixar’s Coco. Feel free to enjoy and appreciate the art of it – just make sure to respect the spirit of it, too.
3. The Festival of San Fermín — Spain
This is a weeklong festival held every July in Pamplona, Spain, in honor of the area’s patron saint, San Fermín. You may not be familiar with the saint, but you’ve probably heard of his festival’s most famous event: the encierro, or the Running of the Bulls, when crowds of tourists allow themselves to be chased through the streets by a crowd of very large, highly agitated bulls. Why would they do such a thing? It began centuries ago as an act of showing off by local children, combined with some aggressive bull-herding techniques. Whenever bullfights were scheduled, the men transporting them had to move them through the center of town to the bullring, and used fear tactics to hurry them along; neighborhood kids would prove their bravery by jumping in and out in front of the stampeding herd without being hurt.
It didn’t take long for this fate-tempting activity to become popular with daring people (mostly men) with something to prove. Bull-runs would happen in any town with its own bullring, but it’s the encierro at Pamplona that has become famous worldwide, due in part to its being immortalized by Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises. If you decide to run with the bulls, be warned: even with medical attention on hand, bull-runners get themselves injured (if not killed) every year.
4. La Tomatina — Spain
Not up to running from the bulls? If you happen to be in the Valencian town of Buñol the last Wednesday of August, you can try to grab a ham… just look out for flying tomatoes! The city’s tomato-throwing festival has been going on since 1945; it’s not certain how or why this tradition began, but it’s still going strong today. Massive truckloads of ripe tomatoes are brought to the town square, homes and storefronts are covered in plastic, and thousands of people wait for the signal to start the food fight. Technically the mayhem isn’t supposed to begin until someone climbs up the Palojabon (a greased pole two stories high) and retrieves the delicious Spanish ham from the top. However, that’s a tough thing to do, so usually the sound of a shot get things going. For one hour only, participants pelt each other wildly with tomatoes, until the whole scene is a red, sticky, pulpy mess; at the sound of a second shot the great tomato-ing stops, the streets are hosed down, and everyone goes home happier (and redder) than before.
5. Oktoberfest — Germany
The carnival heard round the world, Oktoberfest is Germany’s most famous gathering of locals and tourists alike. What began as a Bavarian royal wedding blow-out in 1810 is celebrated today wherever beer is drunk. The original, ongoing festival is an enormous affair with horse races, carnival rides, live music, and keg after keg of good German Bier; for restaurateurs and brewers, the festival is a spectacular yearly showcase for their new wares. But even far away from home base in Munich, Oktoberfest is an excuse for anyone (of legal age) to raise a stein, savor some bratwurst, and share in the German cultural experience.
6. Krampusnacht — Austria and Germany
The Christmas season begins early in the Alpine region of central Europe. On Nikolaustag, or December 6th, St. Nicholas rewards all the good little children on December 6th, leaving small gifts and treats in their shoes. Meanwhile, the bad little children might get a visit from someone else! Krampus is a frightening figure indeed, usually pictured with horns, hooves, a tail, and a very long tongue. He and St. Nicholas are a team – Nick gives presents to the good kids, and Krampus scares the bad ones into doing better next year (or else he’ll take them away in a bag and eat them up).
Krampusnacht, or Krampus Night, is the night before Nikolaustag. On this night, many communities will have a Krampuslauf (or Krampus run), in which young men put on their scariest Krampus masks and costumes and parade through town, giving bystanders a good-natured scare or two. Some of these costumes are quite elaborate, with moving parts, pyrotechnics, and monstrous sound effects. Don’t worry, though, there are parade watchers on hand to make sure no children are actually eaten. Usually.
7. Yi Peng and Loi Krathong — Thailand
The skies of Chiang Mai are set aglow as thousands of lanterns are released throughout the city during the Yi Peng Lantern Festival on the evening of the full moon on the 12th month (usually in November). Yi Peng aligns with another floating festival, Loi Krathong, in which participants place offerings of coins, candles, incense, and flowers into baskets and float them down the river, sending all negativity and anger away with them.
Chiang Mai is the best place in Thailand to observe these two festivals together, and see the sky and water filled with lights. Yi Peng’s sky lanterns are a more recent phenomenon, though, and they’re not welcome everywhere; fire hazards and risks to air traffic have led some cities to regulate them or ban them outright. So if you’re traveling in Thailand on Yi Peng, check with the law before you light one up!
8. Mardi Gras — New Orleans, Louisiana
Mardi Gras season begins right at the end of the Christmas season with the bacchanalian celebrations of Twelfth Night on January 6th and continues right on through the month, building up to the chaotic citywide celebration on Fat Tuesday, right before Ash Wednesday. This is the last chance to break loose, be irreverent, party down, and use up all the rich foodstuffs and liquor you’re supposed to avoid during the forty days and nights of Lent. It’s rooted in tradition and the gathering of family and friends. You can find Mardi Gras celebrated any place in the world with a strong Catholic history (see below)… with the Crescent City’s storied reputation for excellent eating, bottomless drinking, often-topless partying, and other forms of glorious excess, it’s no wonder the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition is the most notorious version in the world. Laissez les bon temps rouler!
9. Carnival Rio de Janeiro — Brazil
Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival is the same celebration as Mardi Gras in theory, but dwarfs it in scale – in fact, it’s the largest in the world, with as many as two million people crowding the streets of Rio for every day it runs. Carnival starts the Friday before Lent, filling the intervening days with music, costumes, chaos of the best kind, and above all, dancing. Brazil is the land of the samba, and more than two hundred samba groups come together from across the country at Carnival to show their neighbors how it’s done. Many of the events are for ticket holders only, but there’s so much overflow of music and excitement into the streets, you can join in the madness just by stepping outside.
10. Carnaval de Québec — Quebec City, Canada
Partying before Lent isn’t strictly for hot climates – in the capital of French Canada, the mascot of the festivities is a snowman, Bonhomme Carnaval, and if the partiers are wearing more and thicker clothing, they’re no less happy to be there. Carnaval means days and nights of snow-boarding, ice-skating, sledding, dancing (outdoors, in the snow, because Canadians don’t fear the winter), free food and drink for everyone, and a French-style masquerade ball. If you’d like to let it all hang out before Lent, but tropical humidity isn’t your thing, head north!