Highland Games, Scotland
Photograph by Jim Richardson
A kilted contestant twirls and hurls a heavy burden during a hammer throw event in Glenfinnan. Traditional highland games feature a heady mix of dance, drink, and food to complement feats of athletic prowess.
Gerewol Festival, Niger
Photograph by Mike Hettwer
West Africa’s Wodaabe nomads prize beauty and celebrate the tribe’s ideal at the annual Gerewol festival. Young men tempt their female judges with heavy makeup, ceremonial garb, and a traditional dance called the yaake. The lucky winner enjoys his choice of wives and lovers.
Lantern Festival, Taiwan
Photograph by Wally Santana/AP
Glowing, floating lanterns carry aloft Taiwanese hopes and prayers for good fortune in the coming year. In Taiwan and in Mainland China the Lantern Festival is celebrated on the night of the new year’s first full moon. The origins of the ancient custom are in doubt but its future seems secure—the festival has gained steam in recent years with the addition of fireworks and laser light shows.
Folklore Festival, Kyrgyzstan
Photograph by Vyacheslav Oseledko/AFP/Getty Images
Horses and horsemanship have long been prized in the nomadic Kyrgyz culture and contemporary men are eager to show they can still perform just about any feat, including wrestling matches known as oodarysh, while mounted.
Festivals celebrating such skills, and featuring plenty of food and drink, are held at high altitude summer pasture grounds known as jailoo. This event at Sarala-Saz draws tourists to a beautiful but remote region.
Beltane Fire Festival, Scotland
Photograph by Jim Richardson
Jubilant “Celts" bear lighted torches—and little in the way of clothing—during the Beltane Fire Festival on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill. The popular annual celebration is a modern manifestation of an ancient Celtic festival. Beltane once marked the arrival of the summer growing season as well as the rebirth of agricultural—and human—fertility.
Burning Man, Nevada
Photograph by Mitch Horning, My Shot
Even at the Burning Man festival a “land yacht” under steam is able to turn heads. What exactly is Burning Man? Devotees of the annual event say you have to attend to understand the temporary community of art and self-expression that appears—and subsequently disappears—each year in the middle of Nevada's Black Rock Desert.
Loy Krathong, Thailand
Photograph by Romain Cintract/Aurora Photos
Thailand’s Loy Krathong festival is particularly lovely at the locale where some say it all started—Sukhothai Historical Park in Sukhothai, home to the ruins of the nation’s ancient capital. By the light of each year’s last full moon, Thais launch banana-leaf krathong floats—and their hopes for good fortune—in waters all over Thailand.
Vegetarian Festival, Thailand
Photograph by David Longstreath/AP
Taking aim on meat lovers, devotees of the Chinese shrine Bang Neow march in Phuket for Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival. Chinese immigrants started the Taoist event in 1825, when they credited the gods and their vegetarian diet for delivering them from an epidemic. Now the nine-day event is widely known for “possessed” persons who, in their fervor, subject themselves to ever more elaborate piercings.
Photograph by Natacha Pisarenko/AP
Gracyanne Barbosa, queen of Mangueira samba school’s drum section, saunters her way through Rio de Janeiro’s 2009 Carnival parade. The samba sound was born in Rio and remains the beating heart of the city’s rather racy Carnival parade. Since the 1920s the parade has been fuelled by the city’s samba schools, which gather musicians, dancers, and designers to prepare year-round for one of the world’s great street celebrations.
Wayne Chicken Show, Nebraska
Photograph by Joel Sartore
Shirtless but apparently modest, the “Chickendale Dancers” prepare to strut their stuff at the Wayne Chicken Show. Every summer this small Nebraska town fetes the humble chicken with a wide menu of events, including the world’s largest chicken dance, an auction of cement chickens decorated by local artists, and, perhaps to the chagrin of the festival’s patron poultry, a chicken wing-eating contest.
Corpus Christi Festival, Spain
Photograph by Israel L. Murillo/AP
A costumed man representing Satan and known as El Colacho leaps over babies in a centuries-old ritual meant to protect them from evil spirits. The Corpus Christi festival, held in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, honors the Roman Catholic Church’s Holy Eucharist.
Ganesh Festival, India
Photograph by Gautam Singh/AP
The ten-day Ganesh Chaturthi festival pays homage to the popular elephant-headed Hindu god, who appears all over Mumbai in the form of some 200,000 decorative idols placed lovingly in the city’s public spaces and homes. The joyous celebration culminates when Ganesh’s large murti, or idols, and his devotees take a ceremonial swim in the Arabian Sea.
Feast of the Most Holy Black Nazarene, Philippines
Photograph by Aaron Favila/AP
Devotees mob a life-size image of Christ, the Black Nazarene, as it’s paraded through the streets of Manila. Each year the image draws tens of thousands of devotees, most of them barefoot, who hurl cloths to handlers in the hope that they will rub them on the Christ and throw them back. The faithful credit the 400-year-old statue with miraculous powers, perhaps due to its own incredible history. During a 1606 voyage from Mexico the ship carrying the image caught fire—but the statue survived, blackened.
Schleicherlaufen Festival, Austria
Photograph by Melissa Farlow
The streets of Telfs, Austria, are transformed into a mystical world of Schleicher (skulkers), wilden (savages), and other costumed creatures who parade through town once every five years for the Schleicherlaufen festival just before the beginning of Lent. Documented evidence of Schleicherlaufen dates to the 15th century, but the festival may well have older roots in the rituals of pre-Christian peoples in Austria’s Tyrol region.
Mardi Gras, Louisiana
Photograph by Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
The bon temps always rouler during New Orleans’s Mardi Gras, even during this February 2006 celebration in a city recently ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Fat Tuesday offers Christians (and others) a final chance to party before the penitential season of Lent begins. In New Orleans collecting beads has been part of the celebration since parading krewes began tossing them to crowds in the 1920s.
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