Galungan symbolises the victory of virtue (dharma) over evil (adharma), whilst honouring the creator of the universe (Ida Sang Hyang Widi) and the spirits of ancestors. Since no records have been found which mention Galungan, its origins still remain a mystery. Nevertheless, this is the most important annual feast for Balinese Hindus. The holiday is symbolised by the fitting of tall bamboo poles called ‘penjor’ on the right side of the entrance to every house, splendidly decorated with woven young coconut leaves, fruit, cakes and flowers. At each gate you will also find small bamboo altars, each one bearing woven palm-leaf offerings for the spirits. People are attired in their finest clothes and jewels on the first day of Galungan. The festivities go on for ten days, ending with Kuningan, bringing the holiday period to am close with a special, ritualistic ceremony, held for the ancestral spirits as they ascend back to heaven.
The first regatta was held in Pisa in 1292, during the Palio of Our Lady of the Assumption. Since then, every year Pisa stages a 1,500 metre dash up the River Arno in celebration of the feast day of San Ranieri, or Saint Rainerius, the city’s patron saint. In remembrance of the city’s nautical traditions, four, narrow rowing boats, each differently coloured to represent the city’s four districts, challenge each other. Each boat resembles a large gondola, is fashioned in the style of the frigates of the Medicean Order of the Knights of St. Stephen founded in 1561, and is crewed with 8 oarsmen, a helmsman and “montatore”. The race – against the river’s natural current – starts near the bridge used by trains to cross the river and ends in front of the Palazzo Medici near the Ponte della Fortezza. The entire day is an Italian celebration of food and drink with festivities throughout the city.
The sight of China’s rivers filling with colourful crafts decked out to look like dragons – from their fearsome snouts to their scaly tails – can only mean one thing: the annual dragon boat festival. This colourful, yearly event may be a lot of fun, but the festival’s roots lie in tragedy. It commemorates Qu Yuan, a revered humanitarian politician, who drowned himself in the Miluo River in 278BC to protest against the Qin state’s invasion of his patch, Chu. The dismayed common people took to their boats and tried to keep the fish and evil spirits from Qu by splashing their oars and beating drums. Qin eventually conquered all its rival states and created China, but the patriotic poet is nonetheless honoured. If you happen to be in Beijing on 18th June, Xiadu Park hosts the city’s biggest celebration, with Beijing university’s students going head-to-head in an annual inter-university race.
The prehistoric site of Stonehenge in Wiltshire, has been a place of worship and celebration at the time of the summer solstice for thousands of years. The solstice (which means a stopping or standing still of the sun), is when the sun is directly above the northern hemisphere, indicating midsummer. The summer solstice has been celebrated by everyone from ancient druids performing rituals at stone circles, to new age, neo-Pagan, hippie revelers and modern-day scientists. Held within the vicinity of Stonehenge, this increasingly popular annual four day mini-festival is the one and only camping and live music event within the vicinity of the world heritage site, and a rare chance for members of the public to walk among the ancient stone circle. By sunset, a few thousand people have usually congregated to keep vigil. By sunrise, numbers have invariably swelled to more than 20,000 people ready to greet the sunrise.
Early in the morning on 28th June 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York’s West Village. The ensuing Stonewall riots lasted several days and are considered to be the beginning of the modern gay-rights movement. The first gay pride march was held in 1970 and has become an annual civil rights demonstration around the world. Over the years its purpose has broadened to include recognition of the fight against AIDS and to remember those the community lost to illness, violence and neglect. Pride New York is now a massive celebration, attended by tens of thousands and watched by even more. A full week of activities, festivities, concerts and shows culminates in a show-stopping, carnival-like march through the streets of New York on 24th June. This year’s march undergoes a slight change, with the 2018 route refocusing on the birthplace of the LGBTQ+ movement to a place of prominence at the beginning of the march.
Peru is famed for its spectacular festivals featuring traditional brightly-coloured clothing, dancing and foods, and Inti Raymi is no exception. In Quechua Inti means Sun and Raymi celebration. The ancient Inca so feared the diminished effects of the sun during winter, that they would fast, create lavish banquets to honour the sun and sacrifice llamas to ensure a bountiful crop. This important annual recreation brings multitudes of visitors to Cusco for a nine-day winter solstice celebration worshiping the Incan god, Inti, in the Fortress of Sacsayhuaman. The ceremony marks the beginning of a new year, and sprawling food spreads, festive music, historical recreations and much dancing praise the Inca, celebrate traditions and will for a fruitful season of harvest. Rituals are accompanied by dances and sounds of shells and musical instruments. The festivities culminate in an epic, day-long event on June 24th, in a royal procession to the ancient fortress, watched by thousands.
Montreal is a city where a heady mix of innovation, musical appreciation, joie de vivre and public celebration are all important ingredients of the civic cocktail. It’s a city that loves the tradition and history that jazz represents, but also respects the flexibility and improvisation implicit within the genre. The city’s inaugural jazz event in 1980 was headlined by none other than the great Ray Charles, who helped invent soul and R&B music. Since then – aided by the resurgence of jazz in the 1980s – the Montreal International Jazz Festival has grown into the largest jazz festival in the world. Headliners for the 39th edition include multi award-winning international singer and songwriter Seal (pictured), and jazz giant Herbie Hancock. Hancock helped to redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section, was one of the primary architects of the post-bop sound, and will be back at the festival eight years after his last appearance.
Every year on St. Pedro’s Feast Day in Haro – capital of northern Spain’s Rioja-producing region – thousands of thirsty locals, together with wine-loving tourists, climb a mountain and literally throw vino all over each other. Some tote water pistols loaded with wine. Others are armed with pump-action super-soakers or spray cans filled with wine. Meanwhile, traditionalists opt for gourds, buckets, bottles and even old boots! Rather than a common-or-garden feast day, locals refer to this messy event as La Batalla de Vino de Haro, or, quite simply, the “Wine Fight”. All of this happens on the day of the patron saint San Pedro, and the liquid madness starts the previous night on the evening of June 28th. As the proceedings unfold pretty much all of the townsfolk gather outside – from children to grandparents – and party the night away in Haro’s cobbled streets and jumping bars.
Running the entire month of July every year, Gion is probably Japan’s best-known festival and one of the longest. Named after Kyoto’s Gion district, it is by far the country’s best event for geisha enthusiasts and photographers seeking candid photos of Geisha and Maiko. Traditional rituals and events related to this wonderful celebration are held throughout the month in Kyoto. The biggest events of the festival are the Yoiyama (the pre-party of the parade) on 14th – 16th July, and the two processions of traditional parade floats called Yamaboko-Junko held on 17th and 24th July which follow a 3km route along Shijo, Kawaramachi and Oike streets. Two types of float “Yama” and “Hoko” (collectively called Yamaboko) are used in these processions. A typical Hoko is about 25 metres tall, can weigh up to 12 tons and 30 – 40 people are needed to pull it! Unsurprisingly, Gion is rife with an abundance of incredible photo opportunities.
This long-running tradition was reportedly conceived by Ottoman raiders, whose military commander, Süleyman Pasa, would let his bored soldiers unwind between bouts of actual battle by wrestling. According to legend, on one particularly memorable occasion, as the Ottoman army was returning to the Ottomans’ Asian stronghold in Bursa after conquering parts of Thrace, forty men scuffled at once, with the two fiercest fighters going at each other until past midnight when both died of exhaustion. When the remaining army had conquered Edirne, the victors referred to the forty soldiers in the name of Kirkpinar, where the wrestling competition has taken place every summer, near Edirne, since 1346. The idea is to prevent your opponent from getting a good grip, so more than 100 barrels of oil are used during the tournament. This really is no-holds-barred wrestling, with contestants grabbing anything to win. With a solid gold belt awarded to the victor, there’s everything to play for.
One of India’s largest and most important Hindu festivals, Rath Yatra draws more than a million pilgrims and devotees to the streets of Puri. Over the years, poets, saints and scriptures have consistently praised the good fortune associated with attending this “festival of the chariots”, since it is one of the only times annually that the deities leave the temple of Jagannath, allowing non-Hindus and visitors to see them. The three figurines that make the trip are Jagannath, his older brother Balabhadra, and their sister Subhadra. They travel more than a mile in elaborately constructed 45-foot-tall wooden chariots along Bada Danda (Puri’s main street), from the Jagannath Temple to the Gundicha Temple where they remain for nine days. During the procession – as drums beat, gongs bang and conch shells blow – pilgrims vie for even a glimpse of the gods, since they’re associated with extreme good fortune and the righting of wrongs.
Held at Blatherskite Park in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory, which is normally a dusty outback outpost with the feel of a pioneer town, every July the place explodes with belly dancing, bands, rickshaw rallies and, most importantly, camel races. The sport’s appeal lies in the beasts’ unpredictability and stubbornness. Camels snarl, gurn, bite and are known to spit for metres. At the start of a race they might move forwards, stay right where they are or even reverse. But, when they get going at full speed, jockeys have a serious job to stay aboard. This desert extravaganza offers all sorts of trophies in addition to the main Imparja prize, and when you add food stalls and families it all has the feeling of a county fair. The Afghanistan Cup is presented by the country’s ambassador to Australia, commemorating the Afghans who first brought camels to the outback in 1840.
One of the oldest, grandest and most important festivals in the Buddhist calendar, Esala Perahera is held in the revered UNESCO World Heritage city of Kandy, the country’s second largest metropolis, located in the middle of the island. The festival is based on an ancient legend, that a tooth, stolen from the Lord Buddha’s funeral pyre during the 4th century AD and smuggled from India to Sri Lanka, is now kept in Kandy’s Sri Dalada Maligawa, The Temple Of The Sacred Tooth Relic, which is itself a renowned pilgrimage site. Famous for its large processions of dancers, flag bearers, drummers, fire eaters, acrobats and colourfully-adorned silk-costumed elephants, with each night, this ten-day festival gets more animated and the crowds get bigger. Esala Perahera ends with a “water cutting” ceremony at the Mahaweli Ganga River, ritualising the divide between pure and impure and honouring the water gods for a good year ahead.
Founded in 1994 by Martin T:son Engstroem, the Verbier Festival has a worldwide reputation for artistic excellence and is now considered one of Europe’s most important music gatherings. Every July, the greatest names in classical music circles gather for two weeks amongst the breathtaking landscape of the Swiss Alps, for an exceptional series of some 60 or more concerts, featuring choirs, orchestras and intimate recitals. In addition to showcasing world-renowned performers, promising new artists and talented young musicians from all over the world are invited to perform alongside their grand masters. In an opening concert worthy of the 25th Verbier Festival, celebrated Russian conductor, Valery Gergiev, will give his first performance as musical director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra on 19th July, and no doubt set the tone for what classical music lovers should expect in years to come, not least, fostering the next generation of young soloists and orchestra musicians.
Billed as “multi-genre madness in Sweden” and favouring musical ingenuity over mainstream success, for three days and nights every year, an idyllic parkland setting in southwest Gothenburg welcomes artists from the worlds of rock, pop, urban and electro music to perform on five stages around a duck-filled lake. Founded in 2007, Way Out West has won multiple awards for its atmosphere and eco-friendly programs, making it one of Scandinavia’s most respected annual happenings. Festival-goers spend their days kicking back in the sun and enjoying the live performances, before spilling out into the city’s throbbing bars and clubs for Stay Out West’s infamous after parties. This year’s proceedings are headlined by celebrated English rock band Arctic Monkeys, “Godfather of Punk” Iggy Pop and American rapper and songwriter Kendrick Lamar. Meanwhile film screenings, art exhibitions and lectures seek to re-energise minds amidst all the rampant partying.
Deeply rooted in religion, for two days every year Italy’s most famous annual sporting event, Siena’s Palio, takes over the city with its epic horse race. As much about pageantry, civic identity and Sienese pride as it is about bareback horse racing, whilst the three-lap race lasts for barely a minute-and-a-half the celebrating lasts for days. But the sight is truly epic and worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. The 16th August race – Palio dell’Assunto – has been held almost uninterruptedly in Siena’s civic hub, Piazza del Campo, since 1644. Ten of the city’s seventeen districts are represented in the race. The seven districts that didn’t race in the previous July or August compete by right, and are joined by horses from three lucky repeat districts drawn by ballot. More than half the riders get bucked, which greatly entertains the 40,000-strong Sienese crowd squeezed into the piazza on race day.
According to popular legend, Onam harvest festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the beginning of Chingam, the first month of the Hindu Malayalam calendar. At this time of year, after three months of heavy rains in India, the skies become clear and blue again, forests turn a lush deep green, lakes and rivers overflow, and lotuses and lilies are in full bloom. People put flower mats in front of their houses to welcome the King, reap the harvest, celebrate and rejoice. Activities during Onam are centered around worshipping, music, dancing, sports, boat races and above all else, eating good food. The most impressive part of the festival is the grand nine-course feast called Onasadya, prepared on Thiruvonam, consisting of up to 13 essential dishes and served on banana leaves. People sit on mats laid on the floor to partake of vast Onasadya meals.
The small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells – set among the Cambrian Mountains – has played host to the World Bog Snorkelling Championships for more than thirty years. This rather unusual and somewhat dirty competition, requires individuals to swim two lengths of a 55-metre water-filled trench – cut through the middle of the weed-infested Waen Rhydd peat bog – in the shortest possible time. Not your average sporting event, but nevertheless one that is fast growing in popularity. Bizarrely what started as a fundraiser in 1985 has grown into something of a global curiosity, with last year’s event seeing more than 150 hardy competitors pay to throw themselves into the filthy, murky waters. The rules stipulate that competitors must wear a snorkel and flippers and complete their swim without using any conventional swimming strokes. The fastest in the adies and mens categories at the 33rd championships on Sunday 26th August 2018 will be declared the winners.
Now in its 73rd year and attended by approximately 30,000 people annually, La Tomatina basically involves participants hurling more than 100 tons of overripe Spanish tomatoes at each other until everyone is pretty much soaked through! Held in the pretty Valencian town of Buñol, on the east coast of Spain, La Tomatina is essentially a giant food fight held on the last Wednesday of August. The firing of a water canon heralds the start of the tomato throwing, and exactly one hour later a second firing signals the end of the messy mayhem. There are conflicting stories about how the festival first began: some say it happened when two boys got into a fight during a parade and began lobbing tomatoes from a vegetable stand at each other. Others believe that the tomatoes were thrown to protest about an unfavourable decision by the city council or launched at a particularly bad musician!