Festivals and Celebrations of the World

David Pettitt

For us, travelling is all about experiences and there is no better way to truly understand a destination than taking part in local festivities. Some are lucky, taking advantage of coincidence to join in with local celebrations but most plan their travels to ensure they are in the right place at the right time. Over the years we have been fortunate to attend many of the world’s most spectacular festivals and celebrations and here are five of the best.

Hornbill Festival – Nagaland, India

Held during the first week of December, the Hornbill Festival is one of the most famous events of the region when the tribes of Naga descend on the town of Kohima. The state of Nagaland is home to sixteen major tribes, each with its own language, cultures and traditions and once a year the tribes unite for a combined celebration. Characterised by a series of spectacular displays there are war dances, folk songs, indigenous games and music and stalls selling traditional fabrics and handicrafts.

Carnival – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

The largest festival in the world, and one that dates back to 1723, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival is famous the world over. Held annually before Lent – in 2016 it will take place in mid-February – the carnival takes place over four days and is a riot of colourful costumes, street parties, drinks, food and music. On average it is estimated that close to two million people come out on to the streets to celebrate each day and the Carnival famously ends with the riotous ‘Samba Parade’.

Punakha Tshechu – Punakha, Bhutan

With its masked dances, colourful traditional clothes and religious readings, the Tshechu, or ‘festival’, in the central Bhutanese town of Punakha is certainly one of the world’s most atmospheric celebrations. Held in honour of the Guru Rimpoche who is credited with spreading Tantric Buddhism throughout the Himalayas, the Tshechu aims to preserve the Guru’s teachings and draws thousands of Bhutanese pilgrims. The festival culminates with the unrolling of a huge sacred cloth thangka.

Hanami – Tokyo, Japan

Early April in Japan means only one thing, ‘Hanami’. Literally translated as ‘flower viewing’, Hanami is the practice of viewing cherry blossom as it blooms over the length and breadth of the country. Hanami usually involves celebrating over food with family under the blooming trees – a century old tradition. Prime blossom spots are highly sought after and if you find yourself in Tokyo for Hanami there is no better place to be than Shinjuku Gyoen where there are over one thousand cherry trees.

Esala Perahera – Kandy, Sri Lanka

One of Asia’s most colourful celebrations, the ten day Esala Perahera in the Sri Lankan hill town of Kandy dates back to the arrival of the Tooth Relic in Sri Lanka during the 4th century AD and is one of the cultural highlights of the year. Held annually, usually during August, the tooth relic is carried through the town in a series of temple processions and involves a spectacular cast of participants from elaborate elephants and thousands of drummers to decorated dancers and stilt-walking acrobats.