Ancient or modern, film, books, arts, religious, comedy, beer or music, today is festival day. Somewhere in the world a town or city is celebrating one of the many thousands of events that make up the social fabric of the varied communities that inhabit this planet.
However, only a few have made it to worldwide notice. Of these we have chosen only activities that travellers can easily join in with and play their part in the festivities alongside the local population.
On a side note, whatever the festival or event working travellers should have their eye on whether there are money making opportunities present whenever an influx of visitors hit town. Where alcohol is drunk and food eaten extra bar or catering staff may be temporarily needed. Stewards are needed to control crowds, gates need to be manned, security maintained and, after the event, there is usually a mess to clean up.
Entrepreneurs and those with a talent can often think of ways to use the extra crowds to their advantage. It may be possible to make a few extra bucks painting shamrocks on faces for Paddy’s day, read tarot cards, busking or drawing caricatures. Volunteer workers may also be able to earn free meals and admission, particularly volunteering at music festivals.
Hogmanay (December 31 to January 1)
Few Scottish words have their mark on the English language but the Scots know how to do New Year so well the word for their end of year celebration is one of them. Each area of Scotland has its own rituals ranging from eating steak pie in Glasgow to swinging flaming balls of rags and newspaper about their heads in Aberdeenshire.
Where: Edinburgh or anywhere in Scotland.
St Patrick’s Day (March 17)
Though he was roundly beaten in the big fibber stakes by Saint George, Saint Patrick’s claims to have driven the snakes out of Ireland helped make him the only Saint more famous than Nicholas. The lying continues to this day when half the world’s population claims to be Irish every March 17.
Where: New York for the parade, or Ireland.
Mardis Gras (a few days leading up to February 21 in 2012)
While the Protestant world sedately tosses pancakes to use up food in preparation for the now largely defunct Lent period, Catholic countries plan for months, extend the celebration over several days and throw the huge knees-up that is Carnival.
Where: The biggest and most well known Carnival is held in Rio de Janeiro but New Orleans is also notable.
Songkran (April 13 to 15)
For many travellers the new year celebrations in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia will begin with an aged woman or small child politely sprinkling a few fingertips of water over their face and end several days later in a rampage around town armed with the biggest fuck off water gun money can buy.
Where: Chiang Mai’s Songkran is the most famous. Outside of Thailand, try Luang Prabang.
Inti Raymi (June 24)
The modern Inti Raymi is a theatrical representation of the Festival of the Sun, a celebration of the winter solstice and a way to greet the new year in the southern hemisphere.
Where: though held throughout the different regions of the former Incan Empire, the biggest and best event is held in Cusco.
San Fermin (July 6 to 14)
Popularised in the English speaking world by Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, the San Fermin festival commemorates Saint Fermin from who’s death by being dragged by Bulls through the streets of Pamplona we get the annual Running of the Bulls.
Exit (July 12 to 15 in 2012)
The newest festival on this list, Exit was started by three Novi Sad University students in 2000 as a protest against the nationalism and xenophobia of the Slobodan Milosevic regime. Exit quickly grew to attract over 200,000 people from all over Serbia, neighbouring former Yugoslav countries and the rest of the world. Volunteers for Exit can earn themselves a free ticket, food and accommodation.
Where: Near Novi Sad.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe (August 3 to 27 in 2012)
The largest art festival in the world is just one of the many festivals held in Edinburgh each year. Anyone can take part and add to the over 2,500 shows put on at the event each August. There are always a few temporary and volunteer jobs at the Edinburgh Festival.
La Tomatina (Last Wednesday of August)
While most festivals celebrate religious events or dates around the calendar, La Tomatina has its origins in a fight that took place near a vegetable stall in 1945. After ad hoc repeats, punctuated by bans, were held on the same day each year the city fathers of Buñol eventually drew up some rules and gave official sanction to the event.
Where: The Valencian town of Buñol.
Burning Man (August 27 to September 3 in 2012)
Described by some as an experiment in community, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance, the Burning Man event combines the pagan rituals of The Wicker Man with Mad Max. The week long festival takes place in the Nevada desert climaxing in the ritual burning of a large wooden man shaped effigy.
Where: the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada.
Munich Oktoberfest (September 22 to October 7)
Other stuff goes on at Munich’s Oktoberfest but, let’s be honest, it’s getting us some of the up to seven million litres of beer that interests us. Held since 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Bavaria and invited the citizens of Munich to join him in a drink or two, the Oktoberfest is the largest fair in the world attracting over five million people each year.