Whether it’s in the clubs of international hotspots or bustling metropolitan hubs, there are plenty of places where those so inclined can find something to do all night. But only a select subculture of hard-partying youth and industry workers will typically prowl the clubs and 24-hour diners. What does it take for the average person to indulge their inner night owl? Whether it’s a religious festival, an artistic exhibition, or just a party too big to be limited to daytime hours, we’ve rounded up some of the best recurring nighttime events in the world – and you don’t need to get past a velvet rope to enjoy any of them.
Ever since its introduction in St. Petersburg, the “White Night” festival has become an institution in cities around the globe – Paris, New York and even Toronto (above) have adopted the practice. Originally designed to capitalize on the phenomenon of the midnight sun, the concept has been carried over to cities with a more natural evening – museums, galleries and local or visiting artists will blanket the city in artwork to be appreciated through the night. In addition to installations, there are public performances of music, dance and theater occurring throughout the city until sunrise.
Every December 2-3 in Saitama Prefecture, the Chichibu Yomatsuri (Chichibu Night Festival) finds thousands of revelers observing or participating in the procession of two lantern-laden floats as they make their way to and up a hill. The only drawback of this process is that the 10-ton floats are moved entirely by hand – several dozen men and women pull on ropes and push from behind. Complicated matters are the choirs, fan wavers and taiko drummers who perform atop the float as it moves. Eventually the procession reaches the top of the hill, and the crowd can enjoy noh plays, eat at roadside food stands and enjoy a fireworks show.
A festival that should need little introduction for most, Mardi Gras’s splendor is easily apparent, but its origins are more mysterious. An offshoot of Carnival, the French introduced the holiday to the area, where it began to be championed by secret societies in the 20th century. These “mystic societies” crown their own kings, hold secret balls and create floats for the day’s big parade. Mardi Gras “Indian” societies dress their chiefs in colorful feathered suits and “walking clubs” made of on-foot musicians walk and play through the streets. While Fat Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar) is the principle day of celebration, Mardi Gras-related balls will begin as early as “Twelfth Night” on January 6th. Parades and Krewes will begin processions as early as the week before, and festivities rage until the stroke of midnight on Tuesday, when police promptly clear the streets.
Long Night of Museums
While the concept of a night in the arts seems like a no-brainer, the museums of the world realized they could get in on the fun as well. A dozen European cities have adopted the model pioneered by Berlin in 1997 – participants use a single pass to gain access to every museum in the city with the goal being to introduce a new swath of patrons to the arts who might otherwise skip a day at the museum. The practice has done so well in Europe that in 2007, Cebu, Philippines, became the first Asian city to participate in the event.
The Vietnamese New Year comes a month or two after the Western calendar’s version, and allows for a slightly warmer affair. A celebration of spring and renewal, families spend time together, cook special foods and decorate their homes with symbolic plants. But much happens outside of the home – children and adults take to the streets to parade with gongs, firecrackers, and anything else they can use to make noise to ward off evil spirits. (Urban centers like Ho Chi Minh City will host concerts, flower festivals and noisy parades of their own.) Afterwards, the people will return to their families for a peaceful meal.
Bonfires of St. Johns
This Spanish holiday adds a pyrotechnical twist to the celebration of St. John. After building large artistic wooden monuments known as falles, the day is spent showing them in parades or festivals before eventually these and other wooden bonfires are set ablaze. The falles are often depictions of events or important figures of the past year; as such, their burning also represents a new beginning for the year. In addition, beauty contests are held to pick “beauties” to represent each of the many neighborhood festival commissions in the city, and one ultimate “Beauty of the Fire” to represent the whole city.
The Scarlet Sails has origins in the White Nights Festival that inspired Nuit Blanche. But St. Petersburg’s festival finale contains a massively popular event within the event for children. The Scarlet Sails night is named for a popular 1920s children’s book, and is held late in June in conjunction with the end of the school year. The event features ships with appropriately crimson sails, circus and dance performers, fireworks and a general celebration that school’s out for summer.
Rio Carnival of Rio de Janeiro
The measuring stick for any other festival in the world, Rio de Janeiro’s celebration of the traditional Carnival draws millions of people to the city each February. While boasting some of the most impressive floats and parades of any festival in the world, Rio’s celebrations have one element that pushes them over the top – a world-class samba school dance competition occurring amidst the festival. Dancers and their floats are presented for audience judgment in large arenas known as Sambadromes, where revelers watch from stadium seating.