What are some of your local (or farther!) favs?
Eeyore’s Birthday Party? Good heavens, that makes me want to travel to Austin - love Eeyore! End of the road…nothing to do…and no hope of things getting better. Sounds like Saturday night at my house.
As for my favorite unique festivals/events, it would have to be the National Book Festival, Smithsonian Folklife Festival, the New York State Fair, and the Maryland Renaissance Festival, although I haven’t been to any of them in a while, except for the RennFest a couple of years ago.
My favourite unique festival is without a doubt Dia de los Muertos / Day of the dead but within the traditional rural setting of provincial Mexico in areas like the State of Mexico, Michoacan , Oaxaca , Chiapas.
I haven’t yet been to a Brazilian carnival , although I will soon , but my intuition tells me that festival will be a close second to day of the dead. Somehow in some Jungian sense in my mind both festivals are a duality and celebration of polar opposites.
The Brazilian Carnival represents to me the affirmation of life, sexuality , the novel, future , sensuality. The Mexican Day of the dead representing Death , the ancient , the ancestors , melancholy and the past.
There is this dualism between the two celebrations , at least to me , subjectively. Its kind of like Ying and Yang in Taoism , Quetzalcoatl and Tezcatlipoca in Aztec mythology, the Dionysian and Apollonian in Nietzsche’s “Birth of Tragedy”, and the Anteater and the Jaguar in the Tupi-Guarani archetypal myth.
I’ll have to think more about what my most favorite festival has been, but for now here are some shots from Savannah’s Sidewalk Arts Fest put on by the local Art College…
Dia de los Muertos is my favorite by far, as well. I had been fascinated by it for a long time, especially coming from a cultural tradition where death is sanitized and public expressions of grief or loss are usually taboo.
My first in-person experience with it was when I lived in Austin, Texas, and there was a DDLM celebration at one of the historically Hispanic cemeteries in East Austin. I was so moved; not only were people so kind to me and willing to give explanations to my questions, but it was such a beautiful display of both commemoration and celebration. We put candles and bouquets of cempasuchil and mano de leon (quite possibly the most beautiful flower ever?!) on graves as the sun began to set, so when it did, the cemetery had a warm glow-- there was such a peace to it that I’d never felt before. Outside the cemetery, a local theater group put on themed sketches and dances. It was all such a memorable experience.
Have you heard of the Qingming Chinese festival? It’s a commemorative holiday where graves are cleaned and food is left out for the ancestors. Here’s a link to a Smithsonian Folklife article about it. I’m always so struck by the cross cultural phenomenon of making altars and leaving food out for the deceased-- something that Chinese and Mexican cultures have in common.
The Balinese barang demon with his fierce eyes is brilliant ! It reminds me of this old BBC/ Attenborough documentary that I saw once about the ceremony
I haven’t heard about the Qingming festival but thank you for mentioning it as I will definitely have a read up on it , it certainly sounds like it has some striking similarities with Dia de los Muertos.
Totally agree , there are indeed some fascinating cross cultural similarities between Asia and Latin America in fact some of them are almost spookily similar. Actually , yesterday I was reading a book about conservation in South-East Asia and there was something that made my jaw drop. It was a mention of a folkloric entity that rural peoples in Vietnam and Laos believe lives in the forest and the physical description and spiritual beliefs associated with it are absolutely identical to a similar cryptid in Brazilian folklore.
I agree , but I have to say I prefer the cempasuchil flower to the mano de leon haha , its such a beautiful colour , intense orange just like the glowing candles of the ofrendas in the dark , it really embody the colour and warmth of the celebration.
So interesting! Haha I can’t argue, I love cempasuchil as well! Speaking of cross-cultural similarities, I love how cempasuchil/marigolds are also big in Indian cultural and religious celebrations, as well!
Alison , check this out , you will love this
Not to mention Indian cuisine (In regards to Marigolds and India) , I’m pretty sure I have seen it used in cooking and I may have even eaten some if I remember correctly
My favourite is the very unique, totally insane Battle of the Oranges which takes place during the carnevale period every year in the small medieval town of Ivrea, Piemonte. I was fortunate enough to witness the citrus war a few years ago and I’m not sure I’ve recovered yet.
It was incredible - a wild orange-flinging fest rooted in heritage and local legend, fought between armoured representatives of Ducal tyranny and teams of cap-wearing peasants. (Each of them with their own gang identity, colours and banners. Their clothes are a cross between midwinter rugby training, medieval minstrels and football hooligans.)
Really, an amazing spectacle and experience…
Another one we have here in Georgia is Tybee Island’s Beach Bum Parade. It is much more than a parade, it is a literal city-wide water fight. Squirt guns, hoses, buckets, the works. If you are outside on the island, you are soaked. I rode on a pirate ship float in the parade with my roller derby team one year, it was absolutely insane. The island is pretty sleepy most any other day of the year.
Oh, I love these! That bee with the high tushy and curvy legs is cracking me up.
I love this topic! I’ve had the pleasure of learning about so many incredible and insane festivals around the world while working at Atlas (brag), but I’ve always been fascinated by the Alasitas Festival in Bolivia, where you can buy little devotional miniatures of anything you wish to come to you in the future!
I’d love any Dia de los Muertos tips you have, I’ll be there this year in Oaxaca!
For me, the The Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture Race is a stand out. The annual race of human-powered amphibious sculptures, put on by the amazing American Visionary Art Museum, is equal parts hilariously ridiculous and stunningly creative.
Hey Larissa ,
Awesome! I think that Oaxaca is actually the best region in Mexico (Michoacan a close second in my opinion) to experience dia de los muertos because of how deeply entrenched traditions are within the culture and of course the deeper connection to indigenous culture that is felt there.
In Oaxaca city you are going to be literally bombarded by dia de los muertos and it really wont take much to see the imagery or festivities as there will be celebrations in practically every street as it is a big thing there. Oaxaquenos are a really friendly and warm people , very traditional but hospitable and they have a great pride in their culture and they love explaining its complexity and I’m sure you will have a brilliant time there.
Having said that the place that I really reccomend going to see the ofrendas and grave vigils is the graveyards of Xoxocotlan town which is just outside of the city. Typically the more traditional celebrations are always located in towns a short distance from major cities, its the same in Michoacan/Morelia with Patzcuaro and in Mexico city with Mixquic.
In terms of food Oaxaca is a culinary paradise , but the foods they really are famous for are chocolate drinks like tejate and Mole Negro both of which are sold in restaurants in the city . Also , if you are up for it , you should try “Chapulines” they are dried grasshoppers / crickets and are a speciality in the city/region , once you get past the insect thing they taste pretty good.
In terms of getting souvenirs of dia de los muertos or just from Oaxaca in general I have one strong recomendation , check out the Alebrijes. They are made from copal wood ( It’s a sacred tree there and is harvested for the most part sustainably) and these are different from the Alebrijes of Mexico city as they are less a chimeric combination of creatures and more a single colourful representation of an animal. This arwork ties in with the indigenous Zapotec beliefs which are a blend of catholicism and Pre-Hispanic beliefs and particularly the concept of the “nagual” which to that ethnic group is a kind of animal spirit guide , sort of like a daemon from the “His dark materials” trilogy. The best place to get one is in San Antonio Arrazola which is pretty near to Xocotlan and although there are lots of workshops my personal reccomendation is to seek out a guy called Eleazar Morales as he is an incredible artisan and his work is genius. I actually have a jaguar alebrije he made for me , albeit I didn’t buy it in Oaxaca , I was feeling nostalgic for Mexico and wanted one of these to remind me of my life purpose so I commissioned it long distance.
This Kinetic Sculpture Race will be hilarious to watch! Fore-runner to RedBull’s Pflugtag??
Some day, I really want to make it to Blairstown, NJ, for their Friday the 13th bash. Blairstown is where much of the movie was filmed. It sounds like it might be a different set of festivities every time, but it only takes place on (yep) Friday the 13th and I always forget until too late.
Oh oh! And how could I forget the North Ronaldsay Sheep Festival!? I edited this story by Karen Gardiner a few years ago and NEED to go and hang with these sheep.
Here n Detroit it’s the Marche du Nain Rouge https://www.marchedunainrouge.com a mardi gras esque parade in which everyone is a participant. The parade is based on a french folklore dating back before the 1700s, about a small red imp (the nain rouge). As the story goes, Detroit’s french founder Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac came to Detroit in 1701 to found the city, and was warned to “Beware le Nain Rouge. Appease him, or you’ll be screwed” to paraphrase. Cadillac did not appease him, and instead as the legend goes, was out on a walk along the river with his wife, came across a small ugly red being, and smacked him across the face with his cane. Cadillac’s life fell apart after that. Even after Cadillac’s death, a small red hobgoblin like creature has been seen at every major mishap in the city’s history. The parade, started a decade ago, was implemented to drive the imp out of the city every year in hopes of bringing prosperity and good fortune to the people. Spectators are warned to wear a costume so the Nain can’t recognize them and terrorize them should the parade fail to kick the Nain out for the following year.
I love the Kinetic Sculpture Races (now called the Kinetic Grand Championship) in Humboldt County, CA. These are homemade sculpture/vehicles that are human powered, and must be able to travel on the road, across water (Humboldt Bay & the Eel River), gravel, and sand dunes. Participants also dress in costumes consistent with the theme of their sculpture. It takes 3 days for the full race from Arcata, CA to Ferndale, CA. Traditionally held on Memorial Day weekend and and now with related events throughout the year. 50 years old this year! These pictures are from the 2018 race: