A common conundrum for travelers during their trips is trying to balance their desire for hedonism on holiday with genuine attempts to understand the culture and ways of life in the places in which they are visiting. It is easy to lie on a beach, go for a hike in the mountains, or soak in a geothermal hot spring. Heading out into a neighborhood to get the real feel of a culture, to stroll a museum, or to try to talk to a fellow human being in a new place is tougher, as it involves battling our fear of the unknown, of boredom, and of rejection.
For those looking for an easy way to ease into the world of cultural travel, festivals are a marvelous way to get in touch with the culture of nation or region we are visiting. Instead of having to dig around inside a museum, it is displayed before our eyes in real time in a colourful and meaningful way. While you can certainly hunt around for local festivals as you travel, it is also helpful to plan a holiday around the major festivals that play themselves out around the world each year.
Doing so guarantees you the valuable cultural exposure that they provide, while all the hedonistic pursuits that you seek on a break from work will still be accessible on days that you spend away from the front lines of the celebration that you are attending. In case you are stuck for a festival to experience, here are three top suggestions that will get you into the spirit of celebrating events in local cultures around the globe!
1) Calgary Stampede – Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Barely more than 100 years ago, the land where the rapidly growing modern metropolis of Calgary sits today was little more than rolling shortgrass prairie, where recently arrived pioneers eked out a subsistence existence tending to livestock. It was out of these humble roots that the young history of Alberta’s biggest city was forged, as the Calgary Stampede amplifies to volume of 11 out of 10 in the present day.
Cowboy culture is on full display over ten freewheeling days, as rodeo competitions form the substance of the event, while the hospitality of this suburban city erupts in a countless number of pancake breakfasts and BBQ lunches during the duration of the festival. Parties are as wild as they were in the saloons 100 years hence, and those that attend them will be gripping onto their sanity as tightly as a greenhorn grips onto a bucking bull.
One final note: wonder why we’re posting this as the 2014 event is just underway? Accommodations often book out weeks/months in advance, so start planning for 2015 now!
2) Mardi Gras – New Orleans, Louisiana, USA
Long ago, Acadians deported from the Canadian Maritimes by the British were plunked down in the swampy bayous of Louisiana, and were left summarily to fend for themselves. Many hung tough here and made do with the bounties of the land that was granted to them, and managed to carve a life out for themselves in this hot, sticky land.
These people had a deep faith in Christianity, and honoured the sacrifices of Lent. They didn’t go into this period of austerity though, without partying hard though. This tradition led to the celebration that we know as Mardi Gras today, so named for the day before Ash Wednesday, when all the butter and lard had to be used up before 40 days of penance kicked in.
It started with the mass cooking of pancakes, and eventually spread to the mass consumption of alcohol, which grew the event from one day to an entire week. The party plays out against the backdrop of the deliciously beautiful city of New Orleans, so before getting properly toasted on multiple hurricane cocktails, take some amazing photos of the fabulous people and architecture of this fine city, ok?
3) Oktoberfest – Munich, Germany
Tracing its origins from a party thrown by a German crown prince to celebrate marrying his true love in 1810, Oktoberfest has grown to become a celebration of the fermented bounty that is produced from the grains of the surrounding farmland, as the numerous beers that were served during the original party two hundred years ago have come to be the focus of proceedings.
While all efforts should be taken to pace yourself during this event (and you should, as German beer is much stronger than the brew you drink back home … trust us), do not restrain yourself from socializing in this events, as the lubrication provided by the inhibition-destroying properties of alcohol should be leveraged so that you can begin the process of cross-cultural understanding and friendship!