5 cultural festivals to experience in 2017

Posted Date: 29 April 2016
2017 cultural festivals

What’s better than a good old-fashioned party? A good old-fashioned party overseas, of course! But we’re not talking about your stock standard birthday celebration.

We’re talking about celebrations so steeped in culture and history that party goers from around the globe fly thousands of miles just to be there.

So from Thailand to Tijuana, here are 5 of the most enchanting cultural festivals you need on your bucket list.

Songkran (Thai New Year Water Festival)

Thailand’s annual Songkran New Year Festival will take you straight back to your childhood days of schoolyard water-fights. Held 13 to 15 April 2017, the Water Festival features lighthearted water-fights breaking out across the country, which is thought to purify, wash away ills and bring good luck.

Pack your swimming gear and a few extra changes of clothing, because visitors can expect unsolicited splashing from enthusiastic children and adults alike for the duration of the festival.

While the nationwide water-fights might delight travellers, remember that it’s a culturally significant day for local Thais. On the first day of celebrations, Buddha statues are cleaned and paraded through the cities. Not even these are immune to a soaking, however, with scented Jasmine water splashed onto the displays.

But not all Thai locals will be in the soaking spirit. Remember that many won’t appreciate a bucket of water on the head while they travel to work in the morning. So if somebody makes it clear they’d prefer to stay dry, set your target on one of the cheeky children instead!

On a more serious note, take care while out and about on the roads during this period as the Songkran festival sees an increase in road deaths each year. The already perilous Thai roads become even more jam packed with holidaymakers for the festival.

Fourth of July (Independence Day) - USA

Celebrations don’t come more ‘stars-and-stripes’ than the Fourth of July in the U.S.A. Marking the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, many consider July 4 the birthday of modern America - and boy do they throw it a mean party.

Think fireworks, parades, barbecues, concerts, fairs, baseball and loud noises in general; Fourth of July celebrations are always high on energy. The food-lovers among us won’t be disappointed, either.

In New York City, the annual Independence Day fireworks over the East River might just rival Sydney’s famous New Years Eve display.

But find yourself in a college town like Santa Barbara, California, and you may spot a group of merry youths involved in a more traditional cultural display - tossing ping pong balls across a table into red cups full of alcohol.

Fun and jokes aside, it’s important for visitors to note that emotions can run hot during national celebrations like these. So as with any cultural observance around the world, remember to be respectful with others opinions, even if they conflict with your own.

Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) - Mexico

Cultural festivities aren’t to be outdone south of the border. The 1st and 2nd of November marks the annual Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico, which honour the spirits of the deceased in spectacularly colourful fashion.

The legend goes that on October 31, the gates of heaven open to allow the spirits of deceased children (angelitos) to reunite with their families for 24 hours. All other deceased family members are then celebrated the following day.

Particularly popular in the southern state of Oaxaca, Day of the Dead is internationally loved for its striking face painting tradition and decorative skull imagery (Calaveras).

Family commemorations of the deceased can be fun and even humorous, leaving travellers with an appreciation for the positivity of Mexican people.

Diwali (Festival of Lights) - India

India’s Diwali celebration is as uplifting as it is visually breathtaking. The annual Festival of Lights is one of the most significant in Hinduism, signifying the triumph of good over evil and light over dark.

To mark the occasion, Hindus light oil lamps and candles, called Diyas, which light the path of returning deities. These illuminate the streets and homes, capped off with a less subtle fireworks display in major cities. 

While Diwali lasts a few days (October 30 to November 3 in 2016), the largest celebration coincides with the darkest night of a new moon in the Hindu calendar. The festival is observed across India but is particularly large in cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Varanasi.

To show your respect and admiration for Diwali, scrawl a lotus flower out of sand in front of your doorway. It’s another emblem of the festival and is thought to welcome good luck and energy into the home.

While tourists are encouraged to soak in the positive energy of the festivities, attending a festival of this national scale needs extra planning. Being a festival of “good”, it’s important for visitors to have a great travelling attitude – especially exercising patience when all retail businesses are shut for the week!

And of course, as the streets are crowded, you’ll need to be extra vigilant with your belongings. 

Holi (Festival of Colours) - India

Holi is another Hindu celebration that, like Diwali, honours good energy and love. To be held on March 13th 2017, revellers at the Festival of Colours will coat each other in a vibrant rainbow of powders on a day that is all about play.

While the festival is beloved and observed internationally, for Indians it’s considered the beginning of the year and the start of spring. Locals absolve past errors, embrace others and forgive and forget grievances - all while wearing a second skin of rainbow powder.

Like Diwali, if you plan on attending the Festival of Colours, make sure you bring a fun and positive attitude, as well as clothing that you don’t mind being ruined!

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