Who doesn’t love a festival? I’m not talking about music festivals here but cultural festivals, world events and festivities that become synonymous with a certain place. I think it is a great way to see a side of the local culture and explore a side to a destination that you might not get to experience if you weren’t at the exact right place and time. That’s why, I have decided to share these experiences and festivals. I love writing about travel and I love travelling in a way where you get to actually experience new cultures, so for me, festivals are at the top of my list when I look at travelling to a new destination.
I’m going to try and link to the official tourism websites for each festival but it might be one of those posts with 100 links as there are so many, so I’ll try and stay on top of it for you so each link is always working! I’m also organising them by date and month in this post so just use the table of contents to head down. There will be a few familiar festivals that people all over the world already know about but I’ve also tried to include the tiniest ones I can find that sound like fun.
Harbin, China // December 2019 – 28th February 2020
This festival began at the end of last year in December and actually carries on right until February. Known as the world’s biggest winter festival, it is a huge festival that is Harbin’s main tourist highlight. It’s all centred around the huge ice sculptures that fill three different parks and each has their own ticket price and also opening times. The sculptures are meant to be breathtaking as they’re made out of snow and ice and also have different lights and stories to the sculptures. You can take tours around the festival and experience the wonderland experience for yourself. China Highlights seem to have all the information so to find out more click through here.
Ouidah, Benin // 10th January
Benin is where Voodoo was born so it makes sense that the Voodoo festival takes place every January here. It’s a festival unlike any other with 60% of the Beninese following the Voodoo religion. Benin is very small so you may also want to visit Togo and also Ghana as they also celebrate the Voodoo festival. People dress up as gods and there are ceremonies, shrines and memorials to witness. A unique experience, there are tours which focus on the festival to help you see everything you could possibly want. Responsible Travel are probably the best bet for information on this one.
Old San Juan, Puerto Rico // 15th January – 21st January
San Sebastian Street Festival is Puerto Rico’s biggest festival and takes place in Old San Juan. 2020 was their 50th anniversary so it was an extra special celebration. There is a parade called the Parades of Cabezudos, which apparently means the parade of the big heads. There is live music and also lots of amazing food and drink on offer. Discovering Puerto Rico are the people in the know if you are interested in learning more.
Rijeka, Croatia // 17th January – 26th February
The Rijeka Carnival is made up of a few events that are spread out over different venues with an the Rijeka’s Carnival Queen Pageant taking place on the 17th January, the Children’s Carnival Parade taking place on the 8th February and the International’s Carnival Parade taking place on the 23rd February. There are also masquerade balls and contests that take place all over Rijeka. The carnival is steeped in Croatian tradition but also combines the new with the old and is now a festival of tradition and urban groups. The slogan for the carnival is Be what you want to be! as people dress up in all different types of outfits and take part.
Cebu City, The Philippines // 19th January
Sinulog is the biggest and grandest cultural festival in the Philippines, bringing in an International audience with contests, parades and activities. The events schedule for 2020 is packed full of things to do and there is even a Sinulog foundation with the events being sponsored by different governments from all over the Philippines. It is a religious festival but it’s also a great time to explore as there are street parties in the evenings around the festival. There is also a Sinulog dance which is a ritual prayer-dance to honour the Señor Santo Nino. To find out more I have linked to the Sinulog foundation website here.
Piornal, Caceres, Spain // 19th – 20th January
This one is certainly different and is known as the turnip throwing festival. It’s a really interesting story where the locals seem to know the origin of why they throw turnips but historically no one seems to have any answers. The festival is said to be based about the story of a marauder who tried to rob some farm animals and was driven away by the villagers who only had turnips to use as a weapon against him. Every year in Piornal, a man dresses up as the Jarramplas (a colourful monster), and the people throw turnips at him. It seems to attract quite a crowd and is definitely one to witness if you happen to be in Piornal. Atlas Obscura have a great article about what to expect, as well as information about the story and you can find that here.
The Philippines // 24th-26th January
Another festival for the Philippines, this one is at the end of January and is about the devotion to the Holy Child Jesus. There are tribal costumes as well as performances to show what life was like in Panay. It’s a huge religious and cultural festival with support from the government and also many private companies. There are sports competitions as well as cultural presentation and many different activities that take place over the few days of Dinagyang. Have a look a their website here for more information on the parades and the history of the festival.
Puno, Peru // 24th January – 1st February
This festival was declared by UNESCO, a festival of “intangible cultural heritage of humanity” as it brings together ideas from two religions for this festival. It focuses on the catholic faith and also Andean religion as an homage to the Virgin of Candelaria. The Virgin is the patron saint of the city. It is the biggest festival in Peru and began in 1960 and has been celebrated every year since. February 2nd is the main day of the festival as there are dances before the “Procession Virgen de la Candelaria” which is a sacred procession, before the evenings are filled with dances, parties and lots of costumes and masks!
Lerwick, Scotland // 28th January
A community event, this festival has many volunteers who spend hours getting ready for the big day. It’s a day of marches that ends in a torch-lit procession and the burning of a galley and it’s famous as Up Helly Aa refers to Norse legend. There are committees and roles within the marches and it all sounds very exciting. I’d love to head to Scotland one day to witness is and it takes place right at the end of January. Their website is filled with images, videos and all information about the event so have a look here, if you are interested.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post about 9 festivals that happen in January across the world. I wanted to create a monthly post about what you can experience so that if you are planning any travels for the year, you might want to plan around the festivities. As I had a couple of months off I realised that this means I have some catching up to do so in the next few weeks I am going to be sharing with a few posts to catch up with all the Festivals Around the World! February has a huge amount of festivals so that requires a lot more research but hopefully it’ll be next week and then the week after that I’ll be publishing a post all about the festivals in March. Then at the beginning of March I will be bringing you Aprils post and every month, I will be writing about the following months festivals! Hope that makes sense and I hope you enjoy but for now, there are so many to share.
Let me know what festivals you are most looking forward to this year!
I post once a week covering topics such as solo travel, working and living abroad and also creating Gabriella’s Guides to places I have been. I cover topics under the following categories such as Planning and Packing, The Travel Diary, Travel Inspiration, Photo Diaries, Gabriella’s Guides and Working Abroad.