Festivals from around the world

This month, we asked our contributors from around the world about festivals in their countries. Read on for festivals from Okinawa, Nigeria, Spain, England, USA and Argentina.

Okinawa (Japan)

By Mike Lynch, regional contributor for Japan (Okinawa)

The Island of Okinawa has too many festivals to cover in one article so I’ll list three that occur in Naha, the capitol city, which is also nearby an International Airport and convenient public transportation.

The Naha Festival
A three day event which takes place around the 10th of October each year, the main attraction is the Naha Great Tug-O-War. This event has its roots in celebration of the end of Summer and the hope for a plentiful harvest in the next season. Many villages throughout the Ryukyu (Okinawa) Island Chain celebrate with tug-o-wars but, Naha has the largest. It is a Guinness World Record rope that weighs over 40 tons and as many as 200,000 people may attend the event with 15,000 or more joining in on the tug.

nara-tug-o-war

The Shuri Castle Festival
Another three day event which takes place each year around the end of October or first of November is the Parade and Ceremonies re-enacting the Coronation of the King and Queen, of the former Ryukyu Kingdom. Many Classical Dances, marching bands and martial arts demonstrations may be seen in parades along the International Avenue (Kokusai Street) throughout the week and the highlight of the events is the crowning held where the procession ends. It takes place at Shuri Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Castle on a hill overlooking the city of Naha.

ryuku-coronation-procession

The Naha Dragonboat Races
Dragonboat Races (Hari) are held in Naha during Golden Week, the first week of May every year. This event is usually a three day affair with live bands, dancing, food and game booths set up under tents along the waterfront, much like a beach festival anywhere else in the world. Golden Week throughout Japan is a celebration of the warming weather and the upcoming summer. The Dragonboat Races are an import from China and they are held in the belief that the gods of the sea will ensure safety and an abundant harvest of fish in the coming year.

Okinawa being a tropical island (Unpredictable weather) and celebrating events according to the Chinese (Lunar) Calendar, it is always best to check local references before planning a visit. Okinawa Information, Japan Update and Wonder-Okinawa are all good English language sources to check before attending a Festival.

Photographs in this section are copyright of Mike Lynch. If you enjoyed them, have a look at Mike’s article on festival photography tips.

Nigeria

By Rosemary Ajayi, regional contributor for Nigeria

Osun
Osun is an annual cultural and spiritual festival in honour of the river goddess, Osun, celebrated mostly by the Yoruba people of south west Nigeria. Visitors and Osun devotees from as far afield as the Caribbean, North and South America, join the yearly procession to the River Osun through the Osun Sacred Grove, which was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005.

Visitors offer gifts to Osun and are blessed by her priestesses. Austrian-born artist, Susanne Wenger, was the most prominent Osun priestess for 50 years until her death in 2009. A highlight of the festival is the procession of the Arugba, a veiled young virgin girl selected by the gods, to the river bearing a food offering on her head. See some photos of the festivities with these slideshows from BBC and NEXT (a Nigerian newspaper).

The Osun festival was first held in the 14th Century. The week-long festivities take place in August in Osogbo, a city in Osun State accessible by road from Lagos State, the commercial capital of Nigeria.

Other festivals of interest include, Egungun, Ekpe, Ofala and Argungu Fishing festivals. Nigerians also enjoy official holidays for both the Christian and Muslim celebrations.

Spain

By Marta Garcia, regional contributor for Spain

One of the highlights of visiting Spain is that there are many, many festivals thorough the year. No matter how small a town is, just go there in the summer and chances are you’ll find fiestas. If you like bulls, and you’ve read Hemingway , you’ll probably want to go to San Fermines in Pamplona (Navarre) in July. You could also take part in the Tomatina, a festival held in a town called Buñol (Valencia) in August in which people throw tomatoes at each other.

Carrera Sanlúcar
If you are in the South of Spain in August, you’ll find the famous horse racing in Sanlúcar de Barrameda, Cadiz. These races date back to 1845. Horses run along the beach at the mouth of Guadalquivir River during different days (you can check the details in the Tourist Information Office of Sanlúcar). The crowd can see these real horse races run in a natural environment. Another thing that may surprise you is that many children build their own betting booths on the beach. Besides being a very important area for horse breeding, the area is famous for its Manzanilla wine, with a unique flavour due to its seaside environment. As for food, the local specialties are traditional tapas and delicious seafood.

Carreras Sanlucar 11

England

By Lucy Chatburn, PocketCultures editor

Wakes Week
Almost every village in Derbyshire, north east England, has its own summer festival. The name varies depending on the village – Wakes week, Gala week and carnival are all used. It originates from factory summer holidays and most of the festivals take place in June or July.

All these villages still have their own wells. In the run up to Wakes Week, the village wells are decorated with well dressings – big murals made out of flower petals pressed into a base of damp clay. The week starts with a religious ceremony to bless the wells, although well dressing is rumoured to have pagan origins.

Derbyshire Well Dressing in Bakewell

The high point of the week is a procession through the village, accompanied by brass marching bands. The village ‘queen’, usually a local teenager, leads the procession on her float – a decorated truck, sometimes pulled by a tractor (it’s farming territory!). Queens from the other villages come on their own floats to join the procession. The village queen has a busy summer, as every Saturday she has to visit a different village to take part in the gala procession.

As a kid I loved joining in the procession with the fancy dress parade. This one won first prize (as you can see the standard is not very high!)

chinese-dragon

Wakes week is a regional festival and isn’t celebrated throughout the UK. The two most important nation-wide festivals are Christmas and Easter, both national holidays.

USA

By Sean Oliver, regional contributor USA (Midwest)

The most popular festivals in the (Midwestern portion) of the USA, are probably:

Christmas
The birth of Jesus Christ; families get together, gifts are exchanged; every December 25th

Read about Christmas celebrations around the world

Thanksgiving
First contact/meal between pilgrims and Native Americans; huge meal involving turkey is eaten, families get together; 4th Thursday in November

4th of July
Independence Day; barbecues and fireworks; always July 4th

St. Patrick’s Day
Irish American heritage; wearing of green and drinking; always March 17th

Memorial Day
Military Service-people who have died; The unofficial beginning of “Barbecue Season” and the very beginning of summer; Last Monday of May

4th Of July Fireworks

Argentina

By Ana O’Reilly, regional contributor for Argentina

Carnaval de Gualeguaychú
One of the many festivals that take place in Argentina, Carnaval de Gualeguaychú attracts large crowds from all over and, although it’s smaller than Rio’s Carnival, it’s just as fun and spectacular.

The people of Gualeguaychú (a city located in the province on Entre Rios) have been celebrating Carnival with parades ever since the turn of the 20th century. The festivities steadily grew to be the big street part it is today, with elaborate floats, costumes, lots of music and dance.

The Carnaval de Gualeguaychú takes place every weekend from January to March (the summer months of the Southern Hemisphere). People are advised to book their tickets well in advance!

Chef float

Can you recommend a festival from your part of the world? Tell us about it in the comments and if you have photos, share them in our Picture Postcards photo group.

Read more:
Gift etiquette around the world
Qoyllur Rit’i festival in the Peruvian Andes
Eisa festival from Okinawa – a photo essay

About the author

Lucy (Liz) Chatburn
Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.
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7 Comments

  • What a fantastic round up! Lucy, I never actually knew what the well dressing related to, so I’ve learnt something there.

  • Lovely piece. 15,000 people in a single tug-of-war, wow! I would love to attend all these festivals, specially the horse race and the wakes week.

  • I find it surprising how many wells there are. They are hard to spot normally, but at well dressing time it turns out that each village has 2 or 3

    Arwa, I guess the wakes week is not so far from where you are. Hope you will make it sometime!

  • I learn so many things with this article. I never heard about Wakes and the Carnival in Argentina.

    I would like to go to Argentina, now my interest is getting higher…

    Congrats to you all! Very interesting, useful and amusing post! :-)

  • wowwow

    Better world village.

  • Great post! We need more of the Festivals from around the world. It could be a never ending project. It’s a big world. There must be thousands of cultural festivals with origins I can’t even imagine. Let’s get more !

  • I was also thinking about how many festivals there must be. It’s a great idea Mike. We could make it a series of posts, or a page that everyone can contribute to (or maybe you had something else altogether in mind). What do you think?