Several different cultures and beliefs around the world have given birth to a variety of festivals to celebrate one’s heritage and bring families and societies closer. Some of these festivals are simply small peaceful processions while others are huge symbols of joy with colourful displays, fireworks and amazing rituals. With the advent of globalisation, these festivals have now evolved into global celebrations with tourist participations and large scale festivities.
10. Festival of Lights Berlin
Celebrated in October, this festival of light dramatically transforms Berlin’s streets, historical structures and famous landmarks. A fairly new festival, it began in 2005 and was led as well as organized by Birgit Zander, who since then has been responsible for celebrating it annually. A major tourist attraction with the theme of light, there are also many art and cultural events and conventions held during this time.
9. St. Lucia’s Day
Dedicated to Saint Lucy, this festival is celebrated on the 13th of December especially in Italy, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Norway. It is believed that the origin of this festival is because of the sad death of a young Christian woman named Lucy on 13th December 304 A.D on account of her faith. there are different stories to explain the legend of saint Lucy, wherein in one story she was put to death because of her refusal to wed and lose her virginity after having been turned into a devout Christian when she envisioned an angel in her dream whilst seeking help for her mother’s illness and in another she wore a wreath of candles on her head to keep her hands free to help Christians hiding in catacombs from the tyranny of roman emperor Diocletian. This custom basically celebrates the belief that light comes into the world and darkness will never be able to overcome it. Traditionally the festivities include a procession headed by a single girl representing saint Lucy adorned with a crown of candles while the others in the procession hold just one candle each.
Deriving its meaning from the Hebrew verb meaning to dedicate, this festival of lights is celebrated for a period of eight days beginning on the 25th day of Kislev according to the by Jews to commemorate the rededication of the holy temple in Jerusalem. It celebrates the miracle that occurred in the temple when only a single container sealed by the high priest was found to contain oil that would light the menorah for just a day but miraculously it lasted eight days. Hence this festival is observed by lighting the candelabrum which is a nine branched Hanukkah or menorah. The lighting is done according to Hillel which says that on the first day one candle is lit and an extra candle as the day’s progress. The traditional foods prepared for the festivities are potato pancakes, bimuelos, jam filled donuts and other fried foods.
7. Festival of lights Lyon
One of the most well known festivals of France this festival of lights which is celebrated over four days celebrates Lyon’s heritage. Every house in Lyon according to tradition lights candles on their windowsills. With designers and tourists coming in from all over the world this spectacle of light includes decorations of buildings, rivers and parks to represent history and customs in an innovative manner. This festival is said to have originated in 1643 to pay tribute to Mary if Lyon was spared from plague. It became popular when the statue of Virgin Mary was erected beside the basilica in 1852 as a focal point for celebrations but on the morning of its inauguration Lyon was hit by a storm and the celebrations were on the verge of getting cancelled. In the end though the skies cleared out and the ecstatic people lit up their windows with candles and descended onto the streets with lights to light up the new statue and celebrated the inauguration in a grandiose manner. This tradition evolved into the current festival to give designers, architects, artists and lighting specialists a unique platform to showcase their creativity.
6. East Peoria Festival of Lights
This annual festival of lights celebration begins with the thanksgiving holiday during the month of November and continues till January 1st. The gala begins with a parade across the streets of lighted floats fashioned from hundreds of thousands of light bulbs. The floats can represent buses, cars, reindeer, dinosaurs and even spaceships! This main attraction is accompanied by laser light shows and indoor winter carnivals as well. It has its origins in 1984 as a part of the East Peoria centennial celebration and each year this festival has evolved to become an internationally renowned festival attracting a large number of visitors. Events such as Folepi’s enchanted forest, Folepi’s holiday sensations are a part of the several hundred events that form a part of this festival.
5. Las Fallas
A fire festival, it is one of the most unique festivals to be held in Spain. With its origin as a feast day for the patron saint of carpenters, Saint Joseph, this festival has grown into a multifaceted celebration for a period of five days. Translated as “the fires”, Las Fallas is celebrated by destruction of ninots which are life size or larger puppets or dolls depicting current events and satirical events and are constructed with wood, cardboard and paper-Mache. The day of the burnings called as la crema which is March 19th. This fiesta is started off by stuffing the statues with fireworks and the ninots are set on fire at midnight. The other activities during this festival include parades, paella contests, bullfights and beauty pageants. This celebration in Valencia owes its origin to the evolution of pagan rituals that used fire to celebrate the onset of spring. Although Las Fallas is a traditional event the ninots in recent times have been newer characters like Shrek, lady Gaga and Barack Obama.
4. Aomori Nebuta Matsuri
There are several festivals celebrated in Japan which use the theme of light, but one the largest annual festivals of Japan which attracts a huge throng of tourists every year is the Aomori Nebuta Matsuri. Nebuta means floats representing warrior figures which are illuminated from the inside and twenty of these are paraded around the city streets of Aomori while traditional music is played. People participating are dressed in the traditional costume called haneto while they dance to hiyashi the traditional music. Held during august2 -7, the final night hosts a giant display of fireworks accompanied by traditional lanterns lit by candles and supported by bamboos which are floated on the sea. It is believed that this custom originated to flat lanterns into the sea to cast away laziness which affected farm work, yet another legend tells how the warlord Sakanoue-no-tamuramaro came to stamp out the enemies of Hokkaido by luring them by hiding soldiers in the gigantic dolls.
3. Loykrathong festival
This festival of lights celebrated annually throughout Thailand takes place on the evening of the 12th full moon of the traditional Thai lunar calendar which usually falls in November. Loykrathong translates as floating crown or a floating decoration hence during this festival, intricately decorated lanterns with incense sticks and candles are floated on a river. Traditionally these floats called krathongs are made of banana tree trunk layers or spider lilyplant, but in recent times out of Styrofoam. This festival is celebrated in reverence to Mae nam regarded as the goddess of waterways and rivers as well as a symbol to let go of all ill feeling and bad luck. Along with Loykrathong is celebrated another festival of lights called Yip eng during which lanterns called khom loi made of rice paper are released into the air where they float in the sky. In Phuket a special evening is allowed for tourists to participate in Loykrathong.
Diwali or deepavali, the Indian festival of lights, it is one of the most widely celebrated festivals in India is traditionally celebrated for a period of four days usually during October – November. With a diverse cultural heritage of India this festival signifies different things in different parts of the country. In northern India, Diwali is a symbol of the coming home of lord Rama to Ayodhya after he vanquished Ravana; in Gujarat it is celebrated in honour of the goddess of wealth Lakshmi and the Bengalis pay homage to goddess Kali. This festival is celebrated by lighting diyas (earthen oil lamps) at home, decorating the entrances with rangolis(patterns coloured with powdered colours) wearing new clothes and exchanging gifts with friends and relatives and of course lots of bright and colourful fireworks which indicate joy. It is also customary to gamble on Diwali night since it is believed that goddess Parvati while playing dice game with her spouse lord Shiva said that prosperity would befall whoever gambled on Diwali night. A festival to celebrate with families and new beginnings it transforms the whole of India into a bright and shining diya.
1. Lantern Festival of China
Also known as Yuanxiao festival or the Shangyuan festival, the Chinese lantern festival is celebrated on the first month in the lunisolar year of the lunar calendar. These lanterns are seen everywhere-outside homes, shops, and on the streets. It basically marks the last day of the lunar New Year and is the official ending to the New Year celebrations. There are various legends associated with the origin of these intricately decorated lanterns which are primarily red in colour. According to one legend the festival was begun by the first emperor of china Qinshihuang to please the god of heaven Taiyi, another legend tells that the festivities were done to commemorate the brave death of Land moon, a courageous warrior who rebelled against the tyrannical king. However the main purpose of this festival which usually falls in the month of February is celebrating positive bonds between families, nature and people and letting go of the past and heralding the New Year and the beginning of a new future.