If you want to know a country, participate in the celebration of one of its festivals. Festivals are the microcosms to the culture, history, traditions and lifestyle of a place. Not only they give you a brisk tour of the country and its way of life, they become the building blocks of your understanding of the people that inhabit the destination. By knowing what are the aspects that are most celebrated in a particular culture through its festivals, you get a crash-course into understanding the intricacies and details that otherwise take years to master.
If you too are looking to be a part of a festival in a foreign land, here are your options for the month of April:
Songkran Water Festival, Thailand
Songkran Water Festival in Thailand is celebrated from 13th-15th April. The entire country gets soaked in water to mark the Lunar New Year. Besides the usual water-fights on the streets which see the usage of balloons as well as water guns, special Songkran parties are organised, particularly in the Silom Road, Khan Sao Road and RCA areas of the capital city, Bangkok. The other facet of the festival involves bathing the statues of Buddha in water as water has a special significance in the Thai culture. It is believed that the water washes away the bad-luck from the previous year, and gives opportunity to start the New Year afresh. The Thai people also observe a ceremony called ‘rod nahm dum hua’, in which they pour scented-water over the hands of their elders as a mark of respect and to seek their blessings.
Feria de San Marcos or the Festival of St Mark, Mexico
Celebrated in Expoplaza, Aguascalientes, the festival is an annual extravaganza that puts the city on halt. From schools to offices and from markets to businesses, everything shuts down to indulge in revelry that lasts 23 days. The festival is grand affair during which at least two thousand different types of activities are conducted; these include exhibitions, a beauty pageant, a spring parade, music and art concerts, national-level competitions of dance and poetry, bullfights as well as cockfights. Such is the importance of this festival that the otherwise casino-free city is given a special licence to host casinos during the time of the festival.
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Louisiana, USA
The birthplace of Jazz, New Orleans is the city that also hosts one of the largest celebrations of the Jazz music in the world through its annual ‘Jazz Fest’. This year the festival will celebrate its historical connections with Cuba by highlighting the Cuban culture. Over 150 Cuban artists will gather in New Orleans for the purpose, including pop stars Gente de Zona, Grammy winner Septeto Santiaguero, jazz legend Chucho Valdés, timba kings Los Van Van amongst others. The festival is also a fine occasion to get a glimpse into the Cuban culture through interactions with Cuban tobacco farmers, Cuban professional cigar-rollers, visual artists of mural paintings and sculptures as well as through the works of successful Cuban photographers. Being held from 28th April-7th May, the festival this year will also see the impressive line-up of artists such as Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Maroon 5, Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds Kings of Leon, Usher & The Roots, Harry Connick, Jr, Meghan Trainor, Lorde, Snoop Dogg, Alabama Shakes, Pitbull, Widespread Panic, Trey Anastasio Band amongst others.
Semana Santa or Holy Week in Antigua, Guatemala
Taking place in the Easter Week, the processions of Semana Santa in Antigua are one of the most colourful and vibrant in the world. Remembering the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, individuals repenting for their sins, as signified by their purple robes, carry floats consisting of heavy statues of Christ, the apostles and the Virgin Mary in the processions. The largest of the floats require at least 80 people to carry it. Thousands of people walk alongside the procession, and the floats get passed from one to another. On Good Friday, the day of culmination, the number of participants is at its maximum and the colours of the processions’ alfombras (carpets) of coloured sawdust and flower petals are at their vibrant best.