From chasing cheese down a hill to throwing water at Buddha statues, people have thought of many an inventive way to celebrate springtime. See our six favourite spring festivals below, each a little bit out of the ordinary, each completely worth joining in on…
1. Holi, Delhi
Takes place: last full moon day of lunar month Phalguna (February/March) Next one: 8th March 2012
Prepare to be covered in colour: northern India’s spring-welcoming festival Holi finishes with day-long street parties where you sing, dance and throw water and pigment powder over each other.
Bonfires are lit the night before to drive out evil spirits, and the normally rigid caste system goes out the window as people from all levels of society dress in old clothes and chuck paint with abandon. Drinking bhang, a cannabis derivative, is also pretty typical – though we’d suggest paint-throwing might be quite enough excitement already!
2. Las Fallas, Valencia
Takes place: March 15 to March 19, annual
Las Fallas translates as ‘the fires’ and is a crazy mixture of Guy Fawkes’ Night and a city-wide carnival (with a dash of Mad Max).
Among the daily paella contests, bullfights and parades, the main attraction is the ninots – plaster and cardboard statues satirising the year’s events – spread across some 350 sites. On the last day if the festival, the ninots are filled with fireworks and burned on the stroke of midnight for la Crema, giving the impression of the whole city set ablaze.
3. Semana Santa, Seville
Takes place: Easter Holy Week. Next one: 17 – 24 April 2011
And so to the flipside of all that hedonism: the evocative Semana Santa en Sevilla. Throughout Holy Week in the run-up to Easter, more than 55 church brotherhoods lead processions through the streets of Seville, carrying floats featuring different depictions of Christ and the Virgin Mary.
It’s intense, with a real sense of ancient ritual: nazarenos dress in long robes and face-obscuring, pointed hoods, while penitents have bare feet and carry crosses. Some processions go on all night by candle-light, and some are carried out in silence.
4. Songkran Water Festival, Chiang Mai
Takes place: 13 to 15 April, annual
Falling on the dates of the old Thai New Year, Songkran is a cleansing festival that starts with a country-wide spring-clean and ends with an almighty water fight. On April 12th, old items are thrown out of houses and burned to avoid bad luck, and on the 13th offerings are made to statues of Buddha at the local wat.
The Buddha statues are then washed with perfumed water, and Buddhas from important wats are paraded through the streets where the crowds throw more water on them. The water-fight begins in earnest after this, with people dousing each other with buckets and super-soakers on the street.
5. Walpurgis Night, Stockholm
Takes place: 30 April or 1 May, annual
Walpurgis Night is six months before Halloween, and can be seen as a kind of summer equivalent to the spooky celebration. Originating in German folk myth (where it goes that witches gather on Brocken Mountain on April 29th to await spring’s arrival) it’s celebrated with huge bonfire and fireworks all over central and northern Europe.
Sweden holds the biggest events, with the affair turning in to a two-day party as Labour Day falls the day after. Besides the bonfires, you can see student parades in Gothenburg and Uppsala, and traditional choral singers at Skansen, Stockholm’s open-air museum and zoo.
6. Cheese-rolling, Gloucestershire
Takes place: UK Spring Bank Holiday Weekend. Next one: unknown
For a country that prides itself on its eccentric rituals, the annual chase-the-cheese race to the bottom of Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire might be one of the UK’s nuttiest.
Taking place every Spring Bank Holiday, young locals (and an increasing number of internationals who travel in especially) compete to chase a wheel of Double Gloucester down Cooper’s Hill, incurring several sprains, concussions and broken bones between them along the way – and that’s it. The event is on hiatus this year but there are high hopes for its return in 2012.
Join the Party!
- Want to get in on the paint-throwing action for Holi? See cheap hotels in Delhi.
- Like big bangs, burning effigies and the smell of smoke and gunpowder? See cheap hotels in Valencia for Las Fallas!
- Join the huge crowds that flock to Seville for Semana Santa every year and check out cheap hostels in Seville.
- Songkran takes place all over Thailand – find cheap hotels in Bangkok, Pattaya and Chiang Mai to experience the biggest events.
- Join the pyro-festivities on Walpurgis Night and check in to a cheap hotel in Stockholm.
Words: Isabel Clift