Autumn has often been regarded as a season of many natural marvels. The leaves changing colors, turning from shades of green to crimson reds and brilliant yellows. The crisp, fresh fall air and the pleasant drop in temperatures finally beckon leather jackets, snazzy scarves and stylish boots out of hibernation. And of course, globally, it’s a time to celebrate the fruits (and veggies) of a hard summer’s labor. Yes, we’re talking harvest season!
Across the world, people celebrate this season with lavish harvest festivals, full of rich cultural ceremonies, brightly colored clothing and of course– tremendous feasts! If you’re looking for some exciting cultural immersion to add to your travel itinerary this fall, boy do we have some great places for you (6 to be exact). We’re joining in on the festivities with a round-up of some of the most thrilling festivals all over the world.
New Yam Festival of the Igbo (Western Africa)
Beginning of August
This festival marks the end of the rainy season and widely celebrated throughout West Africa. In Ghana and Nigeria, the New Yam festival, or Iwa ji as some call it, is so important that it is actually observed as a public holiday. There’s no shortage of festivities when it comes to this yam-fest — dancing, singing, drumming, parades, and of course, feasting on yams! West Africans all over the world prepare a special dish called fufu, made of pounded yams, for this occasion.
Onam (Kerala, India)
August 26- September 6
This ten-day, harvest festival of Kerala, India commemorates King Mahabali, under whose reign Kerala witnessed its golden era, whose spirit is said to visit at the time of Onam. Though originally a Hindu festival, Onam is largely celebrated as a cultural festival by non-Hindu Malayalis (term for Kerala-ites) and the Malayali diaspora all over the world. Celebrations kick-off with a grand procession called Athachamayam, complete with decorated elephants, elaborate flower arrangements, live drummers and folk singers, colorfully dressed people with masks and live-action re-enactments of scenes from Hindu epics such as the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. Filled with games, traditional dances, folk music, boat races and vegetarian feasts served on banana leaves, Onam is one harvest festival that pulls out all the stops!
Lammas (London, U.K.)
Between August and September
Love bread? Well, then Lammas is your kind of festival. This Anglo-Saxon originated holiday marks the beginning of the wheat harvest season, celebrating the “first fruits” of the year. In the early years of England, tenants were expected to present freshly baked loaves from the new crop to their landlords and leave some on church altars to be blessed and returned. How carb-tastic!
Mid-Autumn Festival (China, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam)
Between September 8 – October 7
When we think of large feasts and traveling home to see family in the fall, we think Thanksgiving. But to many people around the world, the Mid-Autumn Festival is the time for them to gear up and celebrate the fall harvest with their families in China– yep, it’s a big deal! This harvest festival falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar (late September to early October) and to celebrate families gather together to watch the full moon- a symbol of abundance, harmony, and luck- while indulging in mooncakes, special dinners and a piping hot cup of Chinese tea. But perhaps the most iconic part of the festivities are the lanterns. From processions to setting them afloat, lanterns are an essential part of this event and you can find them in the hands of most children, lined along the streets and dotted across the night sky.
Itel’men Tribal Harvest Festival (Russia)
3rd Week of September
Out in the gelid tundra of Northern Russia, the indigenous Russians of the Koriak, Itel’men, and Sunda tribes return to their ancestral homelands to take part in this harvest festival. But it’s no easy journey. The 43-mile hike up Mt Elvel to leave a wooden carving at the top of the mountain for the aancestors is an essential ritual of the festival. But, don’t worry, the festival isn’t just about hiking; as a sweet ending to a rigorous journey, tribe members feast on a sweet rice dish known as “Pongal”, made to celebrate the harvest of apples, nuts, and honey.
La Festa dell’Uva (Florence, Italy)
September 30- October 2
Did someone say wine? Held in Impruneta, a small town in the Chianti-grape region of Florence, this traditional festival occurs on the last Sunday of September and celebrates the culinary wealth of Italy, especially the grape (or uva) harvest. There are over 800 local wines to taste and throughout the village, grapes are distributed and pressed all day long. Of course, there’s no end to the fun with music and dancing wherever you go and the highlight of the event is the competition between the districts with the parade of allegorical wagons in the Buondelmonti square.
Have you ever been to any of these festivals? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below. If you haven’t… then what are you waiting for?! Your harvest festival experience is waiting…