Temperatures might be cooling down soon enough, but on the world event calendar, the fall festivals are heating up. From the unique and artistic to the bizarre and ritualistic, there's an international event to suit every traveler's taste to dig into the local culture. Keep reading to check out our selection of favorite celebrations and holidays coming up.
Jousting of the Saracens: Arezzo, Italy (September 4, 2005)
- For color, pageantry and displays of medieval tradition, it's hard to beat La Giostra del Saracino in the stunning Tuscan town of Arezzo. This event has been enacted in Arezzo annually since 1260, and, similar to other historic festivals in the area, (like the Palio of Siena), the celebrations involve the entire community and attract visitors from around the world.
Contestants represent the various quartieri (quarters) of Arezzo as they gather in the town's main square, Piazza San Francesco for the annual jousting tournament, competing for the coveted prize of the Golden Lance and the honor of bringing the trophy back to their residential area. The event sees participants dressed up like knights on armored horses with accompanying flag-bearers, trumpeters and parades of locals in medieval costume. The Saracen is actually a puppet that holds up a shield, at which the knights take aim when displaying their jousting skills and riding ability.
For more information visit www.arezzocitta.com/tourist%20information.htm.
King's Cup Elephant Polo Tournament: Hua Hin, Thailand (September 5 - 11, 2005)
- Elephant polo in some form or another has been played for hundreds of years but was more recently reintroduced as an adaptation of classic horseback polo. This event takes place annually in the resort town of Hua Hin on the Gulf Coast of Thailand, with competitors coming in from all over South-East Asia. Held on the grounds of the Anantara Resort, the competition raises money for a local Elephant Conservation Center. Tournaments are also held regularly in Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Apart from the actual polo tournament, the celebrations last for an entire week and include a parade of elephants (accompanied by a marching band) through the city, an elephant blessing ceremony, polo memorabilia auctions, displays of the elephant orchestra and elephant painting daily (the elephants do the painting, with brushes held in trunks). Hua Hin is a three-hour drive or short flight from Bangkok. Go to Bangkok Air (www.bangkokair.com) for fares and schedules.
For more information, visit www.thaielepolo.com.
Outback Festival: Winton, Australia (September 14 - 18, 2005)
- Winton is an outback town in rural Queensland Australia famous as the place where Waltzing Matilda was penned and first performed. It's also the home of Qantas, Australia's national airline, which had its humble start there in 1920. The biennial Winton Outback Festival is a five-day extravaganza of all things typically "country" with events and activities sure to amuse and bewilder. One of the key events is the Dunny Derby (dunny, meaning a toilet) where outhouses on wheels are pulled by teams of four people while the "jockey" takes his place on the throne. Other equally appealing activities include an Outback Ironman competition, the U-beaut-Ute competition (a Ute is a utility truck and a standard fixture in the Outback), the world crayfish derby race meeting, a True Blue Aussie sport competition, an Afghan camel bazaar (a standard form of transport for over 150 years here) the Golden Casket grand parade, the bush Mardi Gras, plenty of home-grown live bands, fireworks and a traditional outback Aussie picnic. For more information about the festival visit www.qldevents.com.au.
Winton is quite off the beaten path, but you can reach it by plane (www.macair.com.au), bus or train (www.ozhorizons.com.au); or you could choose to drive the 930 or so miles from the city of Brisbane.
White Night: Paris, France (October 1-2, 2005)
- Each year on October 1 and 2, the City of Light becomes the City of Wide Awake. Swapping slumber for partying is known as Nuit Blanche, or White Night. For detailed information, visit www.parisinfo.com.
Throughout the White Night, over 120 cultural institutions and public gathering places stay open all night. Last year an estimated one million Parisians and visitors joined in the festivities. This free celebration of arts and culture is the perfect opportunity to visit monuments, tourist attractions, museums, galleries, libraries, houses of worship, cinemas, parks, swimming pools and even universities. Monuments and buildings are illuminated in colored lights with accompanying music. Be prepared for large crowds, but it's all worth it to gain access to so many Paris institutions without paying an entry fee. At daybreak, the city hall in each arrondissement organizes breakfasts for those who've lasted through the night. The success of this relatively new event has inspired the city of Rome to hold its first Notte Bianca on September 17, 2005 (for more on this, visit www.lanottebianca.it).
Festival of Dasain: Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Patan in Nepal (October 2-10, 2005)
- Dasain is Nepal's most colorful annual festival, featuring 10 days of bathing in holy rivers, masked dancing, kite flying, bamboo swinging displays and a final four days of spectacular celebrations. It's a wonderful festival for people but not a particularly healthy one for their animals. Generally the first six days are not celebrated publicly, but on the seventh day, Fulpati -- the public festivities -- begin. These include a procession of government officials from Kathmandu's royal palace, accompanied by a marching band, ritualistic receptions and the placing of sacred garlands of flowers at Hanuman Dhoka Gate. The eighth day, Kalratri, is the "black night" as the slaughter of goats, sheep and buffalo begins and continues on to the ninth day, when thousands of animals are sacrificed in Kot, the courtyard outside the Taleju temple. This day also sees a rather unappetizing display of Hindus sprinkling their cars with the blood of the animals to ward off evil spirits from the Goddess Durga and to prevent car accidents.
The tenth day, Bijaya Dashami, Hindus and Buddhists go to their elders to receive tika, rice patties immersed in a red liquid, that is then placed as a spot on their foreheads. That afternoon people gather and make their way to the temple of Nardevi for the Festival of the Sword, Khadga Jatra, which represents the victory of good over evil, commemorating the legendary killing of a demon by the goddess Durga. This is also considered the luckiest day of the year for Nepalis to gamble. Although Kathmandu is the main focus of Dasain, Bhaktapur and Patan are also worthy cities to visit for the celebration.
For further information visit www.welcomenepal.com.
Círio De Nazaré: Belém, Brazil (October 7 - 14, 2005)
- On the second Sunday in October, the Amazon port city of Belém puts on the largest annual river festival procession, attracting people from all over Brazil and the world.
The Saturday before the procession, an effigy of the Virgin of Nazaré is brought across the water from Vila de Icoaraci, guarded by a flotilla of boats. From the port, the effigy is paraded through the streets of Belém to the Cathedral (Igreja da Sé), followed by a procession. On the following morning, the procession swells to several thousands people following the Mary around the city, carried on a raised platform covered in flowers. Various decorated floats also follow the saint with children dressed as angels and members of the clergy. Men and women encircle the platform, walking barefoot and holding onto a long rope, representing the strong link between the saint and her people. Followers jostle to be able to touch the image of the Virgin. The celebrations continue into the night with live bands, music and dancing throughout the city.
Diwali Festival of Lights: Throughout India (November 1, 2005)
- Fittingly as the most important Indian Hindu festival of the year, Diwali is also the most beautiful. Every Hindu home, no matter how small or humble, and even many non-Hindu light small oil lamps (called diyas) and place them around the home, in courtyards, gardens, verandahs, on the walls around the home and on rooftops. This creates a surreal visual experience for the visitor to any Indian town. Children wake up hours before sunrise to participate in all the fun and frivolity of lighting firecrackers and sparklers.
Diwali is a celebration of the symbolic conquering of darkness by the light as a representation of good triumphing over evil. The festival also coincides with a the post-harvest season, when India is at its most abundant, there is the hope of impending wealth for communities so it is a time for big spending, particularly on jewelry. It's also the biggest shopping season of the year, equivalent to the pre-Christmas shopping frenzy in western countries.
For more information visit www.diwalifestival.org.
Day of the Dead: Throughout Mexico and Guatemala (November 1-2, 2005)
El día de los muertos is one of the most culturally interesting times to be in Mexico and Guatemala to witness the festivities of the traditional Day of the Dead. It is a celebration of life and a chance for families to remember their ancestors, paying tribute to their memory by visiting cemeteries, followed by spectacular street festivals, parades, the giving of gifts and feasting. Each town or province will have its own individual way of commemorating the day, from more somber candlelit funerary processions to bustling street parades full of dancing and bright colored costumes.
Even in the week beforehand, you will get to see the intense planning that goes into the Day of the Dead. Commemorative altars are set up throughout the streets, costumes and decorations are sold in local shops and even food has a morbid theme, with skeleton cakes and bread baked in the shape of coffins. Food and drink form an integral part of the occasion and you will often see plates of food left at grave sites in local cemeteries, next to photos of the deceased and other gifts. Family members will also bring radios or musical instruments to the cemetery so they can sing, dance and celebrate with the deceased.
The town of San Andrés Mixquic, southeast of Mexico City is famous for its colorful Day of the Dead celebrations, as is the city of Oaxaca. The Day of the Dead in the Guatemalan highland village of Todos Santos is the cultural highlight of their festive calendar with dancing, cemetery gatherings and a unique drinking inspired horse race competition that combines the skills of alcohol consumption and horsemanship. In Santiago Sacatepéquez, Guatemalan locals use multi-colored ornate kites to communicate with the spirits of the deceased with thousands of kites flown in the streets as well as in the cemeteries.
To learn more about these celebrations, read our Dancing on Their Graves: Celebrating the Day of the Dead Festival in Oaxaca.
Guy Fawkes' Night: Throughout England (Nov 5, 2005)
- Guy Fawkes Night is an historic and traditional English festival that commemorates a failed 1605 conspiracy, known as "The Gunpowder Plot," that was supposed to take place on November 5th of that year. It was the intention of Guy Fawkes and a number of British Catholics to blow up the English Parliament and the ruling monarch, King James I, as a protest against the way Catholics were treated in Britain at the time.
The plot was foiled and the English have been celebrating ever since with a night of bonfires, fireworks and a ceremonial burning of an effigy of Guy himself. No matter where you are in England this night, you will be part of the revelry and general mayhem that is the Guy Fawkes celebration. Nobody seems to see the irony in naming the event after the very culprit who devised the plan and remains more famous today that the king he tried to kill. Lewes, in the South East of England, is famous for its Bonfire Night festivities and consistently attracts thousands of people each year to participate. In London, many parks and commons hosts parties alongside the fireworks displays. In particular, Clapham Common (www.lambeth.gov.uk), Southwark Park (www.southwark.gov.uk), Bishops Park (www.lbhf.gov.uk) and Wimbledon Park (www.winbledonvisitor.com) put on parades, fun fairs, musical performances and family festivals.
Do you know about an upcoming festival worthy of note? Tell us about it on our Cultural Immersion Message Boards in our Travel Talk section.