There are hundreds of rich and vibrant cultures spanning the globe, collectively holding thousands of festivals every year, each celebrating peoples' heritage, religion, and traditions. With every festival having something unique to offer you may not know where to start, but fear not; here are 5 of the best festivals, all definitely worthy of your bucket list!
1. Holi, India
Flickr | Abhijit Kar Gupta
The Indian festival of colour, or Holi, celebrates the end of winter and ushers in the new season with the colours reminiscent of spring harvest, and represents the destruction of the demoness Holika by Lord Vishnu. Holi is one of the most recognisable religious festivals in the world and is even celebrated in the UK, USA and Spain.
There are many different takes on the Holi festival in India varying from region to region for instance; Folk Holi features unique music and traditional dances; Warrior Holi, the Sikh celebration demonstrating military exercises through wrestling, martial arts and mock sword fights; and Cultural Holi, commissioned by Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, where ‘true’ spring colours are thrown whilst dancing to his songs.
Most of these variations take place in the run up to Holi, or on the actual festival dates.
Flickr | supratik chakraborty
Another variation is the festivals intensity; it’s worth noting that in touristy areas, such as Jaipur, Agra and Delhi, the Holi will be in the streets and crammed with people throwing colours around, dancing and drinking; practically an amazingly hectic street party, yet not for the enochlophobic. However if you venture more southwards to quieter places you’ll find a more ceremonial celebration of Holi, involving temples and rituals, so it just depends on your style.
The next Holi will take place over the 13th and 14th of March 2017, with the main throwing of the colours taking place on the 14th. However these dates are subject to change as the festival tries to coalesce exactly with the full moon of the Hindu calendar’s 12th month, Phagun.
If you would like to participate in Holi whilst doing something amazing, check out our projects in India.
2. Harbin International Ice and Snow Festival, China
Flickr | 艾文 Wisse
If you prefer the cold this festival celebrates all things frozen. With inconceivable snow sculptures and an entire village made of ice, the Harbin Festival dwarfs the ice festivals of Quebec, Sapporo and Norway.
Starting as a local celebration in 1999 this event quickly grew into an international competition, with competitive sculptors coming from all over the world. The contest to be the best has grown and grown each year, resulting in the most impressive ice festival in the world.
The festival consists of three main venues; the Sun Island Snow Sculpture Garden, Zhaolin Park and The Grand World of Ice and Snow.
Flickr | Ricewind42
Sun Island displays some of the largest snow sculptures in the world which range vastly in size and theme; whether it be full scale replicas of famous buildings, 3 dimensional murals of folklore or original art from local sculptors. The world record for largest snow sculpture was actually achieved at the 2007 festival with a 35m tall, 250m long sculpture celebrating the upcoming Beijing Olympics.
Zhaolin Park is the smallest venue at the festival displaying considerably smaller sculptures and intricate ice lanterns, illuminated by lights encased in the ice. Due to their size these are the only sculptures that can be preserved after the melt.
However, what everyone goes to see is The Grand World of Ice and Snow. This is home to both ice and snow sculptures and functions as a chilly metropolis, complete with bridges, pagodas and whole, full-scale buildings made entirely out of ice. All of the architecture is vividly lit with coloured spotlights, and some buildings even reach over 45m tall!
Flickr | Ricewind42
After the festival, all but the lanterns and small sculptures are left to melt away, meaning that no two Harbins are ever the same. The 2017 Harbin Festival starts on the 5th of January, running all the way to the 25th of February, so there’s still time to sort your trip out there.
You could see this beautiful festival whilst volunteering on one of our China projects!
3. Naadam Festival, Mongolia
Flickr | Mark Fischer
Naadam translates to “games” and that’s exactly what this festival entails. Dubbed as “the three games of men”, the national holiday showcases three of Mongolia’s traditional past times; horse racing, archery, and Mongolian wrestling. These are said to be the ancient tests of courage, skill and strength.
The games are carried out over 3 days in the capital Ulaanbaatar and, once the president has declared the games have begun, they also play host to a plethora of Mongolian culture such as throat-singing and traditional dances and music. The festival also includes military displays of marches and music.
Flickr | Rob Oo
A quarter of Mongolia’s population still live nomadically on the steppes, and some families can be quite accommodating to tourists in the time of Naadam, giving you the chance to see their sustainable and wholesome off-grid lives in their Yurts.
Nadaam is held every 11th to 13th July and is definitely the most cultural experience of these 5, with the festival actually being designated ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ by UNESCO.
Check out our Mongolia Community projects.
4. The World Culture Festival
Flickr | Anton Diaz
The World Culture Festival was held earlier in the year in New Delhi and is a celebration of the human species; unified through dance, music, spirituality and environmental protection.
The 3 day festival was commissioned by peacemaker and humanitarian Sri Sri Ravi Shankar to commemorate 35 years work of The Art of Living (AoL) foundation. Founded by Shankar the AoL promotes human unification and non-violence, working towards peace and the abolition of discrimination worldwide.
The AoL has a huge reach, functioning in 155 countries, and due to this scale have contributed to disaster relief, securing education for all, the global empowerment of women and sustainability.
So what better way to reinforce an ethos of Oneness than to bring people together for one of the biggest parties in the world!
The stage was constructed on the Yamuna Floodplain, resulting in a 7.5 acre performance area for the 37,000 dancers, musicians and gurus from 115 countries. The festival attracted hundreds of thousands of people and hosted 42 international dignitaries, all mindful and respectful of each other’s cultures.
Flickr | Anton Diaz
This is the pinnacle of a culture fix; everywhere you look shows you different snapshots of world cultures, giving you the chance to interact with people from all walks of life in one place.
There was some controversy in the run up to the event due to theorised ecological impacts on the Yamuna, but because the event was sustainably managed neither the floodplain nor the river withstood any environmental damage. Dates for the next World Culture Festival are yet to be announced.
5. Diwali, India
Flickr | soumyajit pramanick
Diwali or “Festival of Light” is a Hindu celebration and is an official holiday in India, Fiji, Pakistan, Nepal and Malaysia, taking place over 5 days, with each day dedicated a different event.
The first day kicks off with people buying gold and getting their house in order to welcome the Goddess of prosperity Lakshmi into their homes. The second day commemorates Goddess Kali and Lord Krishna’s banishing of the demon Narakasura, signifying the victory of light over dark; good over evil. Effigies are burned on this day.
The third day is how the festival got its namesake, and is considered the main celebration; where thousands of fireworks are set off across the region and every home, temple, hotel and shopfront place lamps and candles in the street.
Flickr | harpreet singh
The fourth day is a day for merchants and prayer, and the last is Bhai Duj; a day dedicated to sisters.
Although the ‘main event’ is only on the one day, Diwali is steeped in Hindu theology, and if you’re lucky you may get to see some of the more domestic rituals.
Diwali usually starts in October or November, but again depends on the phase of the moon. The date set as of yet is the 19th of October 2017.
You could see Diwali whilst making a difference on our India, Fiji, Nepal and Malaysia projects.