Whether steeped in solemnity or sprung from pure silliness, festivals around the world never cease to intrigue, amaze or, at the very least, entertain. From the ancient to the obscure, this list of festivals around the world shows local color both literally and figuratively. They are as diverse as they are bizarre.
They are also far flung, perfect excuses for hitting the road any time of the year.
1. Chalk It Up To Talent
Pasadena Chalk Festival; Pasadena, California
Beautiful but fleeting these sidewalk masterpieces last just a few days before nature, pedestrians, or cleaning crews wash them away. Now in it’s 20th year, the Pasadena Chalk Festival hosts artists who compete in categories that range from “Best 3-D Effect” to “Best Rendering of a Masterpiece.”
Photo credit: Bullet Salvador
2. No Pain, No Gain!
Phuket Vegetarian Festival; Phuket, Thailand
According to locals a pre-festival regime of meditation and a strict vegetarian diet mean that no pain is felt and no (or at least, minimal) blood is lost during what is a pretty serious piercing ritual. If this isn’t exciting enough for you, some participants climb a ladder made of blades.
Photo credit: Igor Bilic
3. You Say Tomato…
La Tomatina; Buñol, Spain
Now that’s going to leave a stain! It may only last an hour but this festival in which participants throw tomatoes at each other leaves enough of an impression that local shopkeepers wrap their storefronts in plastic in preparation. If you go, make sure to bring old clothes because there’s no chance of you ever being able to wear them again.
Photo credit: David McEvoy
4. Awash With Color!
Holi Festival; India
You’ll need to bring both a sense of fun and a set of old clothes to this colorful early spring festival in which participants douse each other with vibrant colored powder. Celebrating, in part, the end of the winter season, revelers also sprinkle each other with scented water.
Photo credit: Thuy Nguyen
5. The Other Side
Dia de los Muertos; Buenos Aires, Argentina
This vibrant, reverent festival is perhaps best-known as a Mexican tradition, but in fact, exists all over the world. A day when the living pay tribute to friends and relatives who have passed away, it’s very much a celebration of life and reminder of all they were on earth.
Photo credit: Fer Mirabelli
6. Lighten Up!
Ghent Light Festival; Ghent, Belgium
The season for bright lights may be over in most parts of the world, but not here. At only a few years old this relatively young festival dazzles with lights in the form of cathedrals, sculptures, and even giant murals projected on public buildings.
Photo credit: Evelien Verhulst-Noen
7. Sheep Happens
Trailing of the Sheep; Ketchum, Idaho
Celebrating the migration of sheep from the north to the south of this state, this festival offers everything from knitting classes to a “Lamb Dine Around” in which lamb is the featured dish of local restaurants. The event features some great activities for kids, too, like cheese-making and sheep shearing demonstrations.
Photo credit: Greg Harness
8. Make Lemonade Out of Lemons
Fête du Citron; Menton, France
Now nearing its 80th year, this celebration of all things citrus takes place in late winter due to its location in a mild, and unbelievably scenic part of the world. The parade themes here have ranged from “Signs of the Zodiac” to “Lemons Without Borders.”
9. Monkeying Around
Lopburi Monkey Festival; Lopburi, Thailand
Bet you’ve never been to a tea party like this. At this festival local monkeys are feted with offerings of fruits and eggs by locals who hope the gesture will bring them good luck. If you go, keep in mind that the monkeys are known for helping themselves to things other than food, like expensive cameras and sunglasses.
Photo credit: Chris Gusen
10. Light Up the Sky!
Taiwan Lantern Festival; Pingxi, Taiwan
Once used by farm workers to send signals to their families in nearby towns, the lanterns at this stunning festival are now considered symbols of peace and prosperity. Combining the traditional with the modern, the festival now includes an enormous fireworks display as well as electromechanical lanterns.
Photo credit by: Make a Wish
11. Bloomin’ Beautiful!
Cherry Blossom Festival; Japan
At least there’s one upside to keeping up with The Joneses. Legend has it that a friendly rivalry between families in the 1600s lead to the profusion of the trees after which this festival is named. If you plan on being among the thousands who now congregate here every year to see the trees in full bloom, aim for what locals call the “Golden Week” when the blossoms are at their peak.
Photo credit: Frank Gong
12. Snowed Under
Sapporo Snow Festival; Sapporo, Japan
It’s estimated that roughly two million people come to marvel at the snow and ice sculptures constructed at this annual event. Amazingly, local legend has it that the impetus for this festival was the creation of six snow sculptures created by high school students in 1950.
13. For Whom the Beard Tolls
Hemingway Days; Key West, Florida
Held for the area’s most famous literary resident, events at this festival include readings, look-alike contests and a mock “Running of the Bulls.” If you happen to look like the celebrated scribe and want to enter the contest, be forewarned; last year’s competition garnered 120 participants.
Photo credit: Donna S. McCraw
14. The Sands of Time
Sandskulpturfestival, Søndervig, Norway
Only 10 years old, this festival attracted over 140,000 visitors last year, not to mention competitors from all over the world. If you plan on competing, take note that the theme for 2013 is “The Wild West.”
Photo credit: Steen Jeppesen
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