Everyone loves a good party, but the more you travel, the more you realize no two parties are alike. Every country has its own national celebration.
We couldn’t feature every single one, but we did want to highlight some of the best national celebrations that are worth travelling for. Some are famous cultural holidays, some are more obscure but amazing national celebrations. All of these celebrations are worth experiencing on a vacation, offering a chance to experience a country and a culture at its most festive and celebratory.
With Canada Day and the Fourth of July having been celebrated in our native countries of Canada and the United States over this past weekend, we thought it was worth spotlighting other great national celebrations around the world. So join us for a trip to six continents (sorry Antarctica) and find some travel inspiration to put one of these national celebrations on your calendar in the near future.
What are some national celebrations worth travelling for?
Abu Simbel Sun Festival, Egypt
This festival has been going on for over 3,200 years, so talk about a national heritage! The temple complex of Abu Simbel remains one of the most impressive monuments of Ancient Egypt. Pharaoh Ramses II had the temple complex built in such a way that the inner temple, where four statues to the gods such as Ra and Amun are located, would light up naturally from sunlight twice a year: on February 22, the day of his ascension to the throne, and October 22, his birthday. So on these two days each year, a festival is held where the sun does in fact illuminate three of the four statues inside the temple, leaving only Ptah, the god of darkness, shrouded in shadow. The festival includes song, dance, great feasts, and, of course, a vigil for the sun as everyone watches it light up the temple interior.
Heard of Coachella? Well, it’s time to learn about Afrochella. This massive cultural festival takes place each year in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, and celebrates pan-African music and culture. It’s not just a music festival, although some of the big name acts from across the continent certainly draw the crowds. The festival also includes fashion events, art expos, and great food. It’s a yearly event that takes place in December or January each year. For 2022, the festivities start December 28. Get in the mood by checking out the Afrochella playlists on Apple Music.
Everyone knows about Mardis Gras. Well, this is the world’s biggest Mardi Gras party. Starting on the last Friday before Lent, which is usually in mid to late February or early March (February 17 in 2023), this Brazilian festival features song, dance, parties all through the night, and some of the most elaborate parade floats and costumes you’ll ever see. Events peak around the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, the centre of the party, but no matter where you are in Rio, or Brazil for that matter, during Carnival, you’re in for a party of epic proportions.
Day of the Dead, Mexico
This religious and cultural celebration is synonymous with Mexican culture. It takes place each November 1 or November 2, aligning with All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day on the Catholic festival calendar, but has transformed into more of a weeklong celebration in recent decades. The Day of the Dead involves large festival events, parade floats, offerings to dead ancestors, and, of course, elaborate costumes, which often involve skeleton makeup. Mexico City is the best place to be for the celebrations, but they’re held throughout Mexico.
This popular spring Hindu festival, known as the Festival of Colours, has become massively popular in recent decades due to its undeniable Instagrammability. The festival celebrates the divine love of Radha Krishna and the triumph of good over evil within Hindu cosmology. It takes place each year in March (March 8 for 2023) and culminates with a massive street festival where people douse each other with coloured powders of all shades, making everyone look like a living, walking rainbow. There are also religious rituals such as bonfires that signify the destruction of evil spirits as well as plenty of singing, dancing, and eating.
Inti Raymi, Peru
This Quechua festival has its roots in the Inca Empire, when people would gather on the winter solstice (June 24 in the Southern Hemisphere) to honour the sun god Inti. Today, the celebration has become more of a cultural festival where Quechua people get dressed up in traditional outfits and celebrate their heritage and the proud legacy of the Incas. The festival takes place in Cusco in the Sacred Valley of the Incas, which used to be the Inca capital, and culminates with a massive parade full of song, dance, and ceremonial readings and rituals.
Kwita Izina, Rwanda
This annual event is held in Rwanda on World Gorilla Day on September 24 and is known as the Gorilla Naming Ceremony, which celebrates the newborn gorillas that are brought into the world each year from the endangered mountain gorilla population. In Rwanda, it’s traditional to name children in the company of family and friends, so Kwita Izina extends this tradition to the gorilla inhabitants of the country, offering names to the new gorilla babies in and around Volcanoes National Park. As can be surmised, the event promotes species conservation and seeks to raise funds and educate people on how to protect mountain gorillas. It also includes traditional music and dance performances by local artists, drawing thousands of visitors each year.
Popular Saints’ Festival, Portugal
The month of June features many festivals and nights of celebration dedicated to some of the most popular saints in the Catholic canon, St. Anthony, St. John, and St. Peter. So in Portugal, these festivals are known collectively as the Popular Saints’ Festival—sorry other saints, you guys aren’t popular enough to count—and involve parades, celebrations, and great feasts centred on the individual festivals for the saints. In Lisbon, St. John’s Day is celebrated on June 12 and 13. In Porto, St. John is celebrated on June 23 and 24. The month culminates with the festival of St. Peter on June 29. Head to Portugal in June to experience the festivities.
Pride is celebrated in nations all around the world and at different times of year, although many festivals are centred on the summer months of June and July. Evolving out of protest movements, Pride celebrates sexual diversity and promotes the equal rights of LGBTQ communities both locally and abroad. In 2023, Sydney, Australia is hosting WorldPride and celebrating 50 years of pride events in the nation. It’s also hosting the wider Asia Pacific region as many nations on the Pacific Rim don’t have celebrations due to political discrimination. So Sydney’s WorldPride will be one to remember!
Often known as Irish Halloween, Samhain is a Gaelic harvest festival that has been held since at least the 9th century AD. The name means “Summer’s End” and celebrations mark the move into winter or the “darker half” of the year. Festivities consist of bonfires, pumpkin carvings, and costumes. Sound familiar? With such deep roots in the nation, Samhain has made a comeback in recent years, with more attention paid to pagan tradition. Festivities overlap with usual Halloween festivities as well such as trick or treating, making October 31 a great time to visit Ireland with family.
Songkran is the Thai New Year, which takes place on April 13 each year and marks the transition into spring. Festivals last a few days and national holidays take place over this time, allowing people to spend time with friends and family. Songkran is famous outside of Thailand as the spring water festival, as celebrations climax with a massive water fight in the nation’s streets. It’s as fun as it sounds. Plan your trip to Thailand next April to take part in the festivities.
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