Bizarre Carnival Celebrations You Haven’t Heard Of

It’s that time of year again, when thousands of dancers prepare to don feathers, beads, and sequins and parade down the streets to mark Carnival. And while big Carnival (or Mardi Gras, as it’s also known) celebrations such as the one in Rio de Janiero get plenty of press, there are lots of other festivals that are just as colorful and creative … and perhaps a little weird.

Wanna see men dressed up as frightening goats, watch devils prance through the streets, or have hundreds of mysteriously masked men throw fruit at you? Read on to learn about some of the world’s most interesting and bizarre Carnival celebrations – where you won’t find a sequined bikini to speak of.

The Carnival of Binche, Belgium

The Carnival of Binche, which takes place in a small town in Belgium, dates back to the 14th century. The festival is one of the oldest street carnivals in Europe and has been recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance.

The main figures in Binche’s Carnival are known the Gilles (see photo above). These are a group of up to 1000 men who wear costumes featuring the colors of the Belgium flag, which are covered in mysterious crests, bells and tassels. The outfits are also stuffed with straw giving the men a linebacker-esque appearance. On their feet, the Gilles wear clunky wooden clogs, and on their faces, they sport peculiar wax masks, which boast curled moustaches and bulging green glasses. These masks get switched out later in the day for giant feathery hats made up of more than 350 ostrich feathers.

If you plan to be in the audience for the Carnival of Binche, watch out, because the Gilles carry baskets full of blood oranges that they throw at onlookers as they dance down the streets.

No one is entirely sure about the origins of the Gilles, but it’s believed the concept dates back to pagan times, when the Gilles would dance and stomp their wooden shoes to chase away winter. The masks are supposed to represent the equality of all people … but there’s no word on what’s behind the orange throwing!

Busójárás, Hungary

Busójárás is a Carnival celebration held in Mohacs, Hungary, 124 miles south of the country’s capital. Like most Carnivals, this six-day festival features parades and dancing, but unlike its counterparts, the Busójárás includes folk music and men dressed as shaggy, horned animals. Known as Busos, the mask-and-fur costumes resemble large, devilish goats – locals wear them as they carry a coffin through the streets.

The origins behind the masked revelry is mixed – some say the Busos are scaring away winter (hence the coffin), but others claim they were intended to frighten away the Turks, who occupied Hungary during the 16th century.

Carnival of Oruro, Bolivia

This 2000-year-old festival takes place in a Bolivian mining town and has also been recognized by UNESCO. The festival is a mix of indigenous and Catholic rituals that include pilgrimages, dances and story telling.

Since Oruro was once an important mining town, locals made sure to honor the Virgin of the Mineshaft in their Carnival celebrations, kicking off the festivities with a religious ceremony.

The other main element of this Carnival is the Diablada – or dance of the devils – where hundreds of locals dress as demons and prance in the streets. Together with some costumed angels, they tell the story of good conquering evil, as well as the seven deadly sins.

Other characters you’ll see in this Carnival are dancers dressed as Incas, and performers representing the black slaves who were forced to work in the silver mines by Spanish conquerors.

[Photo Credits: Flickr users PIXELPLUS Photography, olaszmelo, and CassandraW1]

The Best Places In The US To Celebrate Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year – or Spring Festival as it’s also known – is a Chinese celebration that marks the start of new life. Each year is associated with an animal from the Chinese zodiac and 2013 will welcome the year of the snake.

New Year is the most important holiday in China (a lot like Christmas is in the West), and Chinese families celebrate by buying gifts, food and clothing. However, it wouldn’t be a Chinese festival if there weren’t a few activities designed to bring in good luck, so families will thoroughly clean their houses – sweeping out any bad luck and making way for good fortune. They’ll also decorate their homes with red paper lanterns, which signify luck, wealth and prosperity.

For Westerners, though, the most prominent part of Chinese New Year has always been the colorful parades put on by local Chinese communities. Lion dances, giant dragon costumes, floats, music and fireworks are all part of the festivities. Want to join in? Read on to learn more about what you can expect at some of the top Chinese New Year celebrations in America.

San Francisco

San Francisco is home to the largest Chinatown in the United States, and Chinese New Year Parades (see image above) have been taking place there since the 1860s when Chinese immigrants to the area decided to showcase their culture. The event has grown into the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside of Asia, drawing nearly a million spectators each year. It has even been recognized as one of the best festivals in the world by the International Festival and Events Association.

San Francisco’s evening procession is one of the few illuminated parades left in the country. So in addition to colorful floats, dance groups, bands, stilt walkers and drummers, expect to see lots of lights. The pièce de résistance? A 268-foot golden dragon, which will require a team of 100 people from the martial arts community to carry it through the streets.

San Francisco’s Chinese New Year parade takes place on Saturday February 23 at 5:15 p.m. The procession kicks off from Second and Market St. and makes its way to Chinatown where it concludes. You can get route and visitor information here. In addition to the parade, the city will also be hosting a Chinese New Year Flower Market, a Miss Chinatown USA pageant and a Chinese New Year Run.

New York City

At nearly half a million people, New York has the largest Chinese American population of any city in the U.S. – so it’s not surprising that the Big Apple puts on several different events to mark Chinese New Year.

First up, there’s the Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival. Here you can enjoy drumming and dance performances, and munch on Asian fare from one of the many food stalls. However, what you’ve really come for are the pyrotechnics – in previous years, the event organizers have set off more than 600,000 firecrackers. The festival is not just about celebrating the New Year with a bang, however – the loud noises from the firecrackers are believed to chase away evil spirits. The Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival takes place on Sunday, February 10 from 11 a.m. at Sara Roosevelt Park.

Next up, there’s the Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade and Festival. This event, which is in its 14th year, boasts decorated floats, performers in elaborate costumes, marching bands and more. The parade takes place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m., starting in Little Italy and winding its way through the main streets of lower Chinatown.

And finally, don’t miss the Chinese New Year Flower Market. Filling the home with flowers and food is a traditional part of Chinese New Year. At this flower market, you’ll find arts and crafts, as well as plenty of blooms to bring prosperity into your new year. From February 8-10 at Columbus Park. For more information about New York’s festivities, click here.

Chicago

Chicago‘s Chinatown is a vibrant community home to 10,000 people and 400 businesses including ethnic shops and restaurants. The neighborhood celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, which it marked with a massive Chinese New Year festival. This year’s event is sure to be another great one.

Previous year’s parades have featured marching bands, colorful floats, lion dancers and the obligatory dragon dance – a team of skilled performers who bring life to the 100-foot-long dragon costume. The dragon is believed to represent power and nobility, and like many things that take place during the New Year celebrations, it is a bearer of good luck.

Chicago’s Lunar New Year Parade will take place on Sunday, February 17 at 1 p.m. along Chinatown’s Wentworth Ave. See here for more information.

[Photo credits: Flickr users Robert Raines, Howard Brier, and Yenna]

Video Of The Day: New Year’s Celebrations Around The World


As the year comes to a close, here’s a look back on how the world rang in 2012. From Sydney to Cape Town, these impressive fireworks displays highlight some of the most famous cities and landmarks throughout the world – whether that be the London Eye or the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Tonight’s celebrations are sure to be just as impressive, so circle back to Gadling tomorrow for some photos from the start of 2013.

Celebrate National Day of the American Cowboy

American cowboyYes, Virginia, there are cowboys. And thanks to the efforts of American Cowboy magazine, the tough, hardworking, salt-of-the-earth men and women who make your juicy T-bone possible are getting their own day of recognition. I’m not talking about your wannabe, Keith Urban-listening, jacked-up pick-up driving, tight jeans-wearing, soft-handed yahoos. I’m referring to the real deal: people who work the land for a living, and actually know how to ride a horse, throw a lariat, and mend a fence.

The National Day of the American Cowboy, held this year on July 23rd, was founded by the magazine in 2004 to “preserve, protect, and promote our Western heritage.”

Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to American Cowboy, but not just because I grew up on a ranch and immersed in the Western lifestyle. It’s because I spent my formative years around ranchers, wranglers, packers, and rodeo folk that I have the respect I do for these people, and have dedicated myself to helping preserve their way of life. I may not agree with industrial livestock production and certain ecological aspects (which don’t pertain to all ranchers, anyway) but I can separate that from the need to feed millions–if not billions–of people, and the respect cowboys and ranchers have for the land, their animals, and their heritage.

Few people are more invested in preserving open space than cowboys. Their livelihood depends upon it. And without a deep investment in the welfare of their livestock they can’t make ends meet. So this year, think about thanking our cowboys by joining a local event (click here for listings). Or put on Sons of the Pioneers, fire up the barbecue, and offer a toast with a bottle of Coors or shot of Jack.

[Photo credit: Flickr user mharrsch]

Happy Holi: Another version of India than Slumdog Millionaire’s

As the big win of Slumdog Millionaire has moved out of the top story category, here’s another version of India, one that I experienced, but without all the choreography and singing. Today is Holi, a holiday celebrating the triumph of good over evil. I forgot about it until being reminded by this Intelligent Travel post. Here’s a happy Holi experience for you.

If you watched Season 13 of the Amazing Race, you may remember part of it occurred during Holi. Some of the team members were totally covered in powder. If you have blond hair, good luck getting out the green. When we went to a Holi celebration, one of my daughter’s friends, a fair-haired, fair-skinned girl, looked like she was related to Shrek for about three days.