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13 Unique Festivals around the World

Festivals, apart from their social significance, are also great tourist attractions. They certainly have a fascinating charm and the potential to contribute to the sustainable local economic development, the latter being directly linked with development of tourism. No wonder the tourism bodies around the world have woken up to this need of the hour. And so we have flower festivals, community wedding festivals, mud festival, beach festivals and so on. While a mammoth percentage of such festivals today originated as tourist-tempters, there are some that have been culturally rooted for centuries and that have evolved over time and yet do not fail to attract tourists from far and wide. But there is definitely a negative side to over-commercialization of socially and culturally important festivals. They stand the chance of losing their inherent character and charisma due to artificial makeup driven by tourists’ demands. Beclouding the ethnicity of festivals by excessively commercialized tourism needs to be carefully checked both in the interests of ensuring social sustainability of festivals and of promoting tourism.

Here’s a compilation of 13 unique festivals around the world that are great tourist pullers.

RETURN OF THE SUN FESTIVAL, GREENLAND

Greenland sees very less of the Sun. Naturally the return of the sun in January after several weeks or even months of darkness calls for celebration here. The exact day varies from year to year. People throughout the country celebrate the occasion with coffee, cakes, sweets, music and family get-togethers. People of all ages drive dogsleds to Holms Hill and sing songs to greet the sun. It is pleasing to see the sun reappear on the horizon. Several excursion trips and dogsled competitions are held to commemorate the day. The 2013 festival was held on 10th January.

UMBRELLA FESTIVAL, BO SANG, THAILAND

Chiang Mai is the largest and the most culturally important city in northern Thailand. Located just 9 km eastward of Chiang Mai is Bo Sang, an otherwise nondescript village but famous for its innumerable umbrella manufacturers. Nearly the entire village is dotted with crafts shops selling colourfully painted umbrellas. Over a period of time the village has earned a name for itself as an internationally renowned umbrella manufacturing centre. In the latter half of January every year, the village comes alive with the Umbrella Festival. The main feature of the festival is a colourful umbrella procession. Numerous pretty young girls hold aloft umbrellas in a brilliant display of colourful creativity. The streets of the village are adorned with lanterns and innumerable varieties of umbrellas of various shapes, sizes and colours are seen hanging from the beams of the houses and shops. The bands play soothing tunes and the villagers compete with each other in designing the most colourful and attractive umbrellas. Apart from the umbrellas, concerts, a beauty contest and a food festival all vie for the tourists’ attention. Buzzing activities engulf this village during the three day festival. The 2013 festivals were held recently from 15th to 17th of January.

VENICE CARNIVAL, VENICE, ITALY

The internationally renowned Venice Carnival in Italy is held annually in the month of February. The Carnival ends with Lent, forty days before Easter on Shrove Tuesday, which is also celebrated with the eating of pancakes. The festival sees the gathering of a large number of masked people from all walks of life. An ancient festival, its origin can be traced way back to the early fifteenth century. During the festival, the streets of Venice come alive with people in all kinds of colourful masks and beautiful attires. Under the guise of the masks, almost everybody is able to hide his identity, so much so that it is not possible to differentiate between common people and those belonging to the nobility. During the festival, there is no dearth of interesting performances and entertainments, apart from the traditional Italian parties reflecting the Venetian cultures and tastes. The streets of Venice are also adorned with numerous souvenir shops for the tourists during the festival period. So if you make it to the next festival, wear your mask, shed off your inhibitions and experience an adventure of a different kind. The upcoming festival dates are 2nd to 12th February, 2013.

SAPPORO SNOW FESTIVAL, JAPAN

Each year during the month of February, Japan plays host to the Sapporo Snow Festival. The origin of the festival dates back to 1950 when a few high school students built some statues at Odori Park at Sapporo, the capital city of Hokkaido, the second largest, northernmost, and the least developed among the four main Japanese islands. Since then the festival has grown in popularity with every passing year, and today it has become one of the largest and most popular Japanese festivals, attracting about two million people from all over Japan and the world. The main attraction is to see the innumerable snow statues and ice sculptures which line Odori Park, and the adjoining areas. Seeing the whole landscape dotted with the statues and sculptures will somehow deport your mind to a fantasy world of snow. The larger statues on display measure more than 25 meters in width and 15 meters in height, and are lit up daily till 10 pm. Besides the larger statues, the site also exhibits more than hundred smaller statues. Various concerts and events are also organised at the festival, using the sculptures as the stage. The 2013 festival will be held from 5th to 11th of February.

CARNIVAL, RIO DE JENEIRO, BRAZIL

Another internationally renowned festival held annually before Lent every year is the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the single biggest carnival in the world where about two million people are out on the streets during each day of the carnival! It is an ancient festival dating back to 1723 AD. It provides one with an excellent opportunity to get an insight into authentic Brazilian culture and Brazilian way of life and to appreciate that they know how to enjoy life and live it to the fullest, in spite of the myriad day-to-day problems facing everybody. The carnival is a joyous event where people dance, sing, party and have loads of fun. Throughout the carnival and on the days preceding and after it, innumerable parties are held, offering the people the chance to have unbounded enjoyment. Once the carnival starts, festive mood engulfs everybody and it is fun and frolic everywhere. All the venues and streets, squares, bars and clubs buzz with an atmosphere of pure festivity. If you manage to be there during the next festival, the spontaneous joys and laughter sprouting everywhere will help you forget the worries and tensions of daily life. The upcoming festival dates are 9th to 12th February 2013.

LANTERN FESTIVAL, SINGAPORE

The Lantern Festival is held every year to commemorate the first full moon of the Chinese New Year. The festival is hugely popular with the Chinese people. As in other locations with concentrations of Chinese people, it is also celebrated in Singapore with lot of enthusiasm. People get together and organise family feasts. Over the years, the Lantern Festival has also become known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day as lovers normally show their mutual affections under the full moon. The festival is held at three places, viz., Chinatown, Singapore River and Chinese Garden where many local Chinese reside. The festival attracts a large number of tourists every year, and showcases some unique Zigong lanterns of exemplary craftsmanship skills. The lanterns come in all shapes and sizes, and are created in the form of animals, insects, flowers and even machines and buildings. Scenes from popular Chinese stories are also depicted preaching devoutness and traditional values. A favourite theme is the zodiac animal of the year. Besides the lanterns, there is cuisine and entertainment galore at the festival. Tourists from all over the world visit Singapore at this time. The 2013 Lantern Festival date is 24th February.

QUEEN’S DAY CELEBRATION, THE NETHERLANDS

The Queen’s Day is celebrated every year by the Dutch people with much fanfare. 30th April is a National Holiday in the Netherlands and is the most widely celebrated among all the holidays in this country, so much so that on this day, Amsterdam is absolutely full to the brim, with up to two million visitors all ready to party. While celebrations take place all over the country, Amsterdam is particularly popular with visitors as it hosts the largest number of events and parties. Amsterdam turns into an enormous sea of orange colour. Quite literally, it is orange everywhere, people are in orange clothes, wigs, caps and shoes. Some even paint their bodies orange. Orange balloons fly in the air, and there are fountains spraying orange coloured water. It does not take long for one to realise that the colour orange is deeply embodied as a way of life and has deep rooted nationalistic implications for the Dutch. It is the colour of the Dutch Royal Family (the lineage of the present royal family dates back to William van Orange). Today the colour signifies something much more and it reflects a sense of nationalistic pride among the Dutch people. Being in Amsterdam on this day is a lifetime experience. Orange Day is celebrated on 30th April unless it is a sunday, in which case the celebrations take place on 29th.

DRAGON BOAT FESTIVAL, CHINA

The 5th day of the 5th month of Chinese Lunar Calendar is considered to be important and auspicious by the Chinese people and on this day the popular Dragon Boat Festival is held. The festival is organised to honour and remember the great patriotic Chinese poet Qu Yuan, whose legendary story associated with courage, valour, patriotism and loyalty is deeply embodied in Chinese culture and traditions. For many, the festival is also an occasion to ward off evils and taboos. During the festival competitions of boats shaped like dragons are held. Competing boats vie with each other to be the first to reach the finishing point, and all this takes place to the accompaniment of drumbeats. The competition and the rituals of the festival are but symbolic attempts to rescue the zealous poet Qu Yuan who was drowned on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month way back in 277 B.C. People throw bamboo leaves filled with cooked rice into the water, to divert the attention of fishes away from the body of the heroic poet. Eventually, this custom also led to the practice of eating tzongzu (rice dumplings), in various shapes and fillings. In 2013, the festival will be celebrated on the 12th of June.

THE GALICHNIK WEDDING FESTIVAL, MACEDONIA

Macedonia, a landlocked country located in the south eastern part of Europe, offers myriad attractions for the tourists. Apart from the natural beauty and historical monuments, one of the greatest tourist attractions in this country is a unique event held annually here – the Galichnik Wedding Festival. It is an exclusive and rare commemorative event. The festival is held every year in the village of Galicnik over the weekend nearest to the 12th of July (St. Peter’s Day). During the event, a selected couple gets married in the traditional “Galichka” style. The wedding feast is sponsored by the state. In the past, as many as 30 couples got married at a time and a huge feast followed. But today only one couple .gets the privilege and for this many couples apply to be wed on the day. To be eligible, at .least one of the partners must have roots in the village. During the ceremony, men dance Teskoto, a traditional Macedonian folk dance. The dazzling costumes, spectacular ceremonies and unique rituals of the festival will undoubtedly leave one spellbound. The festival has gained in significance once it got the UNESCO recognition as an event of important spiritual values of humanity.

MUD FESTIVAL, BORYEONG, SOUTH KOREA

Boryeong is a South Korean town located at a distance of about 141 km from Seoul. The place is well known for the annual mud festival which is generally held in the first fortnight of July, and is most popular during the final weekend of the fortnight. The festival apparently attracts a huge number of tourists from all over the world, who throng the festival grounds in large numbers to experience the beneficial and curative properties of the mud at Boryeong. Visitors to the festival also enjoy the numerous fun filled events like mud wrestling, mud sliding, mud super slides, mud marathon, mud painting, mud massage and other such events related to mud. For a swimming experience of a different kind, one can also head straightaway for the mud mega tub. The festival was first introduced in 1998 mainly to promote the wide range of cosmetics which were manufactured using the mud from Boryeong. Over the years the festival has gained in popularity internationally and it is .reported that nowadays more than two million visitors from all over the world throng the festival venue every year. The 2013 festivities are scheduled to take place from the 19th to 28th of July.

OCTOBERFEST, MUNICH, GERMANY

Every year Munich eagerly looks forward to Octoberfest, a festival celebrated with gala consumption of beer and food. With over six million visitors thronging the festival grounds every year, it can undoubtedly claim to be the largest single public festival in the world. Consumption of beer is the main attraction of the festival. Lovers of the golden brew look forward to having the time of their lives at the fest. Beer served here is usually of the darker and stronger variety with a higher concentration of alcohol. The tradition of the festival dates back to 1810 AD when a wedding party was thrown by King Joseph Maximilian to celebrate his marriage to Princess Theresa of Saxony. Beer loving people enjoyed the party so much that they decided to celebrate again next year, and it has been held regularly since then. A notable feature of the Octoberfest is the large variety of tents, usually run by families for generations. Each tent is markedly different from the other, and has something special to offer. The tents have cafes serving delicious food to go with your beer. The festival is usually held for a period of 16 to 18 day. In 2013, it is scheduled to be from 21st September to 6th October.

HERMANUS WHALE FESTIVAL, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Every year, Hermanus Coast, situated 80 km from Cape Town, plays host to the unique ‘Hermanus Whale Festival’, an amazing celebration of these majestic mammals which have fascinated and captivated mankind over the ages. People of all ages are drawn to the unique festival year after year in multiples of thousands. The whales are the star attraction and kids too enjoy whale-watching. Hundreds of whales make their way back from Antarctica where they have spent the winter feeding on plankton. Now it is time to breed and warmer water beckons them. On their way back, they put up a magnificent show for spectators. They stick their tails up out of the water, take their heads out of the water to look around and splash the water with their tails. They seem to be in playful mood. First held about 21 years ago, the festival has gained in popularity over the years. Besides watching the gigantic mammals, visitors can also soak in the unique natural environment and enjoy the variety of music and taste the cuisine of the numerous restaurants dotting the festival grounds. Dates of the 2013 festival have been tentatively fixed for the period starting from 28th September to the 1st of October 2013. However, final confirmation is still awaited.

WATER FESTIVAL, CAMBODIA

Cambodia celebrates the water festival for 3 days in November every year. For Cambodians, it is a significant festival and an important holiday in their calendar. During the festival, a carnival atmosphere grips the country, especially Phnom Penh. People arrive in hordes to Phnom Penh from the provinces to witness the annual boat races, availing of various forms of transports like buses, cars, bikes, bicycles and even trucks. They choose to stay back in the city during the festival days to lend support to their respective teams. Many also avail of the opportunity to explore the city as it is the only opportunity for them to visit the city. More than 400 boats are propelled by expert oarsmen. The Water Festival also marks a one- of-its-kind natural phenomenon. The Tonie Sap river starts flowing in the opposite direction during this time. It is the only river in the world which reverses its flow in opposite directions in different times of the year. Tonie Sap Lake is also an important geographical feature here. It is a vast expanse of water, which was once a part of the sea. Today, the rivers Mekong and Tonie Sap feed the lake. The date for this year’s festival is 27th November.

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