10 Must-See Holidays and Festivals From Around the World

As today is the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, we thought we would share 10 must-see holidays and festivals from around the world.

Thanksgiving is one of many holidays that celebrate a good harvest. Today it is mostly a time to get family and friends together to eat and drink a lot. Typically, this is done while watching some American football and then settling into a more formalized family dinner. The holiday has been celebrated differently throughout history, as I am sure many of these world holidays have also changed over time.

So here is our list. We hope to participate in some of these  in our lifetime or even on our upcoming world trip in 2019.

1. Diwali – India and Other Regional Countries

Diwali is a Hindu holiday which is celebrated with a festival of lights. It takes place in the fall, pretty close to Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Diwali is celebrated over 5 days, mostly in Western India, and has deeply rooted traditions that occur on each of these days.

They light lamps to worship God for good health, knowledge, wealth and prosperity. Light is recognized as a gift from God which shows the beauty of the world in how it is experienced. The holiday also represents good over evil and hope over despair. They have a fireworks celebration in addition to the lamps and candles inside and outside of homes.

Of course, a holiday is not a holiday unless there is some kind of food involved. After the fireworks, celebration food is shared and gifts are exchanged between family and close friends. This would be quite an experience to see if we get the opportunity.


Photo by Simon Fraser University Creative Commons

2. Carnival – Brazil

Carnival takes place at the beginning of Lent, which is 40 days of fasting. Usually the fasting consists of avoiding meat or some other pleasures. The celebration features music, costumes, and samba dancing, and a huge parade. This event, which is held in a 13 block long amphitheater, includes larger-than-life floats that incorporate dancing and music.

Samba groups organize themed block parties – or “blocos” – in neighborhoods throughout each city. Some are as small as 75 people with others up to 1 million in popular areas. Expect a lot of drinking and craziness happening everywhere. The largest celebrations are in Rio de Janeiro and Salvador de Bahia.

Make sure to book your flights and accommodations at least 6 months in advance as many people from all over the world make the trip each year. This sounds like one of the wildest events in the world, so por que não?


Photo by Venturist – Creative Commons

3. Día de los Muertos – Mexico

The Day of the Dead originated in Southern Mexico but is celebrated by people of Mexican ancestry living elsewhere, including the United States. The tradition is over 3,000 years old and originates from the ancient Aztecs. The holiday is a tribute to lost family and friends and is a way to feel reconnected to those lost.

People will paint their faces with skulls and create small decorated alters for their loved ones. These could include flowers, drinks, foods or other things that the departed may have liked. The Aztecs believed you go to a beautiful world after death, so this holiday puts a positive outlook on what is to come.

Some cities in the U.S. and Mexico will have parades or other cultural celebrations to honor the dead. We would like to experience this in Mexico to get a closer feel for the culture and traditions. Maybe we can get our faces painted too.


Photo by Manuel Meneses Namihira – Creative Commons 

4. Mid-Autumn Festival – China

Mid-Autumn Festival is a long-held custom of the Chinese to celebrate the harvest and express thanks to the moon, much like Thanksgiving, with a lunar bonus. They believe that the moon has a close relationship to the changes in seasons, and to express their thanks for the harvest, they make a sacrifice to the moon.

To celebrate, people will gather to make sacrificial offers, eat moon cakes, appreciate the full moon, and think about family members who are far away. In some areas of China, dragon and lion dances are performed for this holiday. Moon cakes are also used as offerings to the moon, or presented to family and friends to wish them a happy and long life.

This sounds like a great way to experience Chinese culture and eat some moon cakes while we are at it.


Photo by Lydia Liu – Creative Commons

5. Oktoberfest – Munich Germany

Oktoberfest originated from a marriage ceremony in 1810, when Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese invited all of the townspeople to attend. The party was so popular that they asked King Ludwig to continue the celebration each year. Today it is a 17-18 day festival where millions of people from around the world go to drink beer. The festival takes place in Munich, Germany in an area known as Theresienwiese or Festwiese, which is a public park. Similar smaller events are held all around the world. So if you like beer and German culture, this event is for you. Prost!


Photo by Chris Brown – Creative Commons

6. Chinese New Year – China

Chinese New Year is an official public holiday, where people usually get seven days off from work. Based on the Chinese calendar, the next one is from February 15th (New Year’s Eve) through February 21st, 2018. It will be the year of the Dog.

The holiday is used to celebrate all of the hard work accomplished from the last year, to wish for a prosperous coming year, and to relax with family members. The celebration includes eating with family, firecrackers, decorations, and giving gifts. Expect to see lion dances, dragon dances, and imperial performances during this time. Some common decorations are red lanterns, red paper cuttings, and even flowers to symbolize the coming spring.

If you get a chance to experience this in China or locally, it should be worth checking out.

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Photo by Shankar S. – Creative Commons

7. St. Patrick’s Day – Ireland

St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is a different experience than what you would find in America. It is more about Irish pride than debauchery and drinking. Locals will find time to spend with family, watch a parade, seek music, or even eat at a local restaurant. This is a day to really take in Irish culture and enjoy the festivities. Grab a fake orange beard and go! Be Irish for a day.


Photo by Giuseppe Milo – Creative Commons

8. La Tomatina – Spain

La Tomatina is a crazy mess of tomato throwing greatness. We’ve had a similar event in my home town of Portland, Oregon that was simply called Tomato Battle; it was definitely inspired by this event in Spain. Since 1945, La Tomatina has been held in the town of Buñol, mostly for the entertainment of the participants. So if you don’t mind getting covered in tomatoes for an hour, this might just be one for your bucket list.


Photo by Graham McLellan – Creative Commons

9. Burning Man – Nevada U.S.A.

Burning Man is not really a festival, but more like a temporary metropolis in the middle of the dessert. Everything that happens at Burning Man is created by the people who attend, and it is generally about being a community while enjoying arts.

There are different ways to participate such as making something artistic like a zombie car, volunteering to help build infrastructure, creating a themed camp, or doing some kind of performance.

It does have a significant cost per person to enter ($990-$1200), but you are spending a little over a week there. In that sense it is cheaper than a hotel for a week and you get the experience of a lifetime. This is definitely not for everyone, so make sure you know what you are getting yourself into.


Photo by Anastasiy Safari – Creative Commons

10. Holi – India

Holi is a festival that celebrates the rise of good over evil, and marks the end of winter and the upcoming spring harvest. It is a Hindu holiday, and it is known as being the “Festival of Colors,” as people get drenched in water and various colors during the festival.

The day is spent coloring other people with powder and colored water, having parties, and dancing. There is music at special events in the larger cities of India. This sounds like an incredible experience that we would love to see. We recommend looking into the safety risks of this event before going, and also safety recommendations for female solo travelers.


Photo by Jose Pereira – Creative Commons

Do you have any must-see holidays or festivals that we should consider?  Please leave them in the comments section.  Happy Thanksgiving!


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