There are so many amazing festivals and events all around the world that take place every year. Some are local and might only have a few hundred people attending. Others pull in crowds of hundreds of thousands or even millions. These amazing festivals are some of the most vibrant and photogenic places for photography. So here are 10 of the most incredible festivals in the world.
Holi – India
A Hindu festival, Holi is a celebration of spring, love and new life. Known as the festival of colours, due to the powdered paint that is thrown, Holi is celebrated in March and marks the end of winter and the arrival of spring. But it also celebrates the Hindu god Krishna and the legend of Holika and Prahlad. The story goes that Prahlad’s evil father who thought of himself as a god tried to kill Prahlad for disobeying him. His plan was to use Holika (Prahlad’s sister) who had a special cloak that would protect her from flames to lure Prahlad into a fire. But because Holika planned to use her power for evil, the cloak flew onto Prahlad and protected him instead.
This is why on the first night of Holi, people light bonfires. But the main draw of the Holi festival is the colours that are thrown at each other. Some believe that this tradition comes from the Hindu god Krishna throwing coloured water over his milkmaids when he was a boy. This has since developed into the practical jokes and games of the Holi festival.
Tomatina – Spain
Near Valencia, in the town of Bunol, every August there is a food fight known as Tomatina. More than 100 metric tons of tomatoes are thrown in the streets, in what is the world’s biggest food fight. Started in 1944/1945, no one is sure how this tradition started. Theories on the origin range from food fight amongst friends to disgruntled citizens who decided to show their displeasure toward the local councilmen. The festival is held in honour of the town’s patron saint Luis Bertran and Mare de Deu dels Desemparats (Mother of God of the Defenseless) and pulls in anywhere between 40,000 to 50,000 each year.
Make sure that you have your camera well covered if you are planning on attending this festival and be prepared to get very tomatoey!
Burning Man – Nevada, USA
In the Nevada desert, every year thousands of people congregate to take part in one of the most spectacular gatherings in the world. The organisers insist that it isn’t a festival but rather a “temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance”. Held prior and including labour day, it includes art installations, music, partying and performances. There is no money exchanged at Burning Man so anyone attending has to bring their own food, shelter and supplies.
Burning Man began in 1986 in San Francisco when founder Larry Harvey and Jerry James along with a few friends burned an 8 feet tall wooden man and dog as a ritual on the summer solstice. By 1988 the effigy had grown to 30 feet tall and Larry Harvey officially named the ritual “Burning Man” to distance it from the “Wicker Man” references. In 1991 Burning Man moved to Black Rock Desert and by 1996 the event had grown in popularity to attract 8,000 people. Fast forward to 2019 and it was attended by almost 80,000!
Paro / Punakha Tsechu
The small Himalayan country of Bhutan is the venue for some of the most colourful and extravagant festivals on the planet. Called “Tsechu”, these festivals occur all year round in various districts and celebrate Guru Rimpoche (the saint who brought Buddism to Bhutan). They include dancing, incredible masked costumes and telling of mythical stories. They are attended by locals in their droves and are one of the most photogenic places to be. Two of the most famous are the Paro and Punakha Tsechu which occur in February and March. If you are planning to attend these make sure you take plenty of memory cards as you’ll be snapping away for hours!
Cherry Blossom Festival
Every year, around March, as the trees begin to wake from their winter sleep, the islands of Japan become decorated with cherry blossom. Known in Japanese as “Hanami” which translates to “flower viewing”, this ancient custom dating back to the 8th century encourages people to pause and appreciate the transient nature of life and beauty. The arrival of cherry blossom was also seen as the sign to begin planting rice. During this period, there are celebrations, street festivals and the trees are lit up with artificial lights and paper lanterns.
Naadam – Mongolia
Held every year from 11th to 13th July, Naadam is a national festival in Mongolia. It is linked to the nomadic culture of the Mongols and focuses on the three traditional national games of archery, wrestling and horseracing. They also include performing arts, craftsmanship, cooking and dancing. There are special rituals and the participants wear unique costumes and use distinctive tools and sporting items. The competitors are highly respected and the winners are awarded titles for their achievements.
Day of the Dead – Mexico
Originating in Mexico and known as Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Day is celebrated on the 1st November. It is a celebration in honour of the dead (to avoid insulting them through mourning or sadness), people celebrate with food, drinks and parties. The familiar symbol of this celebration is the skeletons and skulls which appear everywhere and people make altars and give offerings such as food and drink to encourage the return of their deceased. It is believed that during this holiday the dead return to celebrate with their loved ones.
Venice Carnivale – Italy
Venice is one of the most picturesque cities in the world at any time. But during the Venice carnival, it becomes like a giant outdoor studio. Thousands of people descend to the city and many adorn extravagant costumes and masks and are all more than willing to be photographed. The combination of the architecture and the colourful costumes make for wonderful photos. You will also find celebrations all around the city, so there will be no shortage of photo opportunities.
Chinese New Year
One of the biggest celebrations in the world, the Chinese New Year is celebrated all around the globe. So wherever you are, the chances are that you will be able to head to a local celebration to photograph the precession and celebrations. This makes it one of the easiest and most accessible festival to photograph as you don’t necessarily have to travel to China.
Rio Carnival – Brazil
The mother of all carnivals and known as the “Greatest Show on Earth”, the Rio Carnival is a significant Catholic tradition which signals the start of Lent. The carnival evolved from its original roots of being a food festival when people would enjoy their last opportunity for a feast before abstinence and fasting during Lent. It gradually changed to an annual city event resulting in the samba parade competitions held in 1933 and to today. It is one of the biggest and brightest events in Brazil and the world.
There you have it, 10 of the most photogenic festivals in the world. But these are just some of the incredible festivals that happen around the world. There are so many more that you could write another list without any of these on. But for now, use these as potential ideas and inspiration for places to go and photograph.
Photo credits: Kav Dadfar – All rights reserved. No usage without permission. Dreamstime.