Famous Festivals Around the World

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The word, ‘festival’ has been derived from the Latin root ‘festivalis,’ meaning ‘holy,’ and it was originally used for the feasting occasions or celebration of some holy and religious nature. Christmas, Eid, Holy, Halloween, Nowruz and similar other religious festivals had been observed since the origin of the respective religions. In the Spanish and Filipino cultures, the word, ‘fiesta’ was more in use for feasts of a religious nature. Festivals were, however, not restricted to religious events only but also included events like New Year’s, change of the seasons, remembrance of some historical event, or  memory of some great persons. Presently, the term ‘festival’ applies predominantly to the celebrations relating to the cultural aspects of a community. A festival is to a community what a thread is to the beads of a rosary. Festivals bring together people of a common interest, ethnicity, geographical location, historical background, thinking, or those sharing a common environment.

1. Oktoberfest, Germany

Oktoberfest, Germany
Oktoberfest, Germany

Oktoberfest is a beer festival held annually in Theresienwiese, Munich, Bavaria, Germany. The festival starts in late September and continues for 16 days until the first Sunday in October. Some exceptions had been made in the 16-day limit, and it is now for 17 days when the first Sunday is October 2. To mark the 200th anniversary, the festival was celebrated until the first Monday in October, 2010. Oktoberfest, locally known as die Wiesn, is the biggest beer festival in the world and attracts more than six million attendees from all parts of the world each year. To qualify as Oktoberfest beer, it must contain not less than six percent alcohol by volume, and the beer must have been brewed in the confines of Munich only. Oktoberfest is a registered trademark by the Club of Munich. Large quantities of beer are consumed during Oktoberfest. About 7 million liters of Oktoberfest beer was served during the 16 days, 2007 Oktoberfest. Visitors may also enjoy traditional foods in the festival.

2. San Fermin ”œ Pamplona, Spain

San Fermin ''œ Pamplona, Spain
San Fermin ”œ Pamplona, Spain

The Festival of San Fermin is held in the city of Pamplona, Navarre, Spain, to honor Saint Fermin, the co-patron of Navarre and the martyr in the Catholic Church. It is at times narrated that Saint Fermin met his fate after being dragged by the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. The annual festival starts from July 7th  and continues until July 12th every year. The most important event of the festival is the bull running, locally known as encierro. The beginning of the festival is not known exactly, but its occurrence in 1787 has been documented. More than 200 participants are injured during bull running every year. Ernest Hemingway, through his famous novel The Sun Also Rises, has contributed towards introducing the Festival of San Fermin at an international level. More than one  million people participate in the festival every year.

3. Diwali, India

Diwali, India
An oil lamp made of clay used for the diwali festival in India

Diwali, also known as Deepavali or Diwali, literally means ‘the festival of lights.’ It is one of the most important festivals of Hindus and falls between mid-October and mid-November. Dewali is observed in remembrance of Nirvana or salvation by Mahavira, the Indian sage and founder of Jainism in 527 BCE. All over India and in many other countries, houses are especially cleansed, new dresses are worn, sweets are shared among friends and families, and firecrackers are burst to ward off evil because Dewali is considered the day of victory of good over evil. Most importantly, clay lamps filled with vegetable oil with cotton wicks are lighted and kept lighted throughout the night arranged in row after row to welcome Lakshmi Devi.

4. Songkran Festival, Thailand

Songkran Festival, Thailand
Songkran Festival, Thailand

Songkran is a Thai festival to observe the traditional New Year. It is held from April 13 to April 15 every year. Although the festival is celebrated all over Thailand, the celebrations in the northern city of Chiang Mai excel the others and continue for six days or even longer sometimes. Songkran is observed as a physical and spiritual cleansing time. Houses are scrupulously cleansed, and Buddha statues in homes and temples are washed with water. In Chiang Mai, Buddha’s statues are carried in streets so that most of the people get the opportunity to splash water over them. April is the hottest month in Thailand, and water fights, the distinguishing feature of the festival, relieve people from the scorching heat.

5. Chinese New Year Spring Festival

Chinese New Year Spring Festival
Chinese New Year Spring Festival

The Chinese New Year festival, also known as spring festival, is the longest Chinese festival. Traditionally, it is time to pay respect to deities and elders. In addition to China, it is also celebrated in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Chinatowns all around the world. On the first day of the festival, houses are decorated, and elders give money to children and teenagers in red packets, and employers gives bonuses to employees in red packets. It is a time for reunion dinners, and millions of people get together to celebrate the occasion and exchange good wishes. Firecrackers are burst to keep the evil away from their homes.

6. International Film Festival ”œ Cannes, France

 International Film Festival ''œ Cannes, France
International Film Festival ”œ Cannes, France

The Cannes International Film Festival is the most publicized and the most prestigious film festival in the world. The idea of this festival was conceived in 1930, but the first festival was held in 1946 wherein 16 films from around the world were presented for evaluation.

The festival reviews new films and documentaries from all over the world. The festival can be attended exclusively by invitation only. It is usually held in May every year at Palais des Festivals et des Congres. The most prestigious award given to the best film is Palme d’Or; Golden Palm.

7. Nowruz-Iran


Nowruz is a compound Persian word comprised of ‘now’ meaning ‘new’ and ‘ruz’  meaning ‘day.’ It is the first day of the year in the Iranian calendar and is celebrated usually on March 21st. Since it falls at the beginning of spring, it is also known as the spring festival. Its beginning is traceable to ancient Iran, and it has been mentioned in some great ancient Persian literary works. The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations has officially registered it on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. In 2010, the UN’s General Assembly recognized the international day of Nowruz as the spring festival of Persian origin celebrated for more than 3,000 years.

8.  International Jazz Festival ”œCanada

International Jazz Festival ''œCanada
International Jazz Festival ”œCanada

The Festival International de Jazz de Montreal, better known as International Jazz Festival, is the world’s largest jazz festival and has been recognized as such in the 2004 Guinness World Records. It is held every year in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and the city traffic is closed for 10 days on account of the presence of more than 100,000 people from all over the world. More than 3,000 artists from 30 countries are featured every year. Over 600 concerts are organized, and by the close of the festival the attendance is about 2.5 million people. In addition to being the biggest jazz festival, it is also considered the best jazz festival in the world.

9. Live Music and Film Festival, Austin, USA

Austin, Texas
Austin, Texas

A unique, live music and film festival is held annually in Austin, the capital of Texas, USA. The festival attracts films of different categories produced in different countries. SXSW is the largest music festival attended by more than 2,500 performers and bands which play in about 100 venues. It is an interactive event and focuses on exploring new talents and new techniques. In 1987 there were 700 registered artists which increased to 12,000 presently. The film and music festival attracts a large number of registered artists, and it is the highest revenue generating event of Austin.

10. Carnivale-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnivale-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Carnivale-Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Carnivale-Rio de Janeiro is the biggest carnival, a festival held every year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil before Lent, the Christian season of fasting. The festival started in 1723 and is celebrated until now regularly. During the festival, the streets of Rio de Janeiro are filled with more than two million people. The salient features of the festival include the merry-making crowd, enjoying the typical Rio carnival parade and floats from various Samba schools. A samba school is a group of neighbors or like-minded people who want to attend the carnival together.


For a festival to be observed, big reasons are not a prerequisite.The time of sowing yams or cassava, harvesting the wheat crop, the advent of the monsoon or even a get-together of redheads, gays, or even a group of those who just want to run for fun would constitute a sufficient reason for organizing a festival. Festivals are distinguished from sports in that unity and enjoyment predominate the festivals while the will to excel is quintessential to sports. Just as the Parisian marathon is for fun,  an Olympic race is a severe competition.



One Response

  1. Anne Smitten

    April 10, 2013 8:35 am

    Nice choices! I am a big fan of festivals and now I see there is so much more to experience. As for a Canadian, the next step for me is the Montreal Jazz Festival, the best one in the world as you describe it and The Vancouver International Jazz Festival you didn´t include, but as it is so close to my hometown, I probably shouldn´t miss that one. The next ones on the list will probably be sunny Pamplona and the typical Oktoberfest for me.


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