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Seven Festivals Across the Globe Guaranteed To Liven Up Any Gap Year

Written by Jenny McWhirter on 12 / 05 / 2015

Gap Year Advice

The ever-increasing popularity of festivals, whether they’re music, art, food or animal related, inspired me to compile a list of some of the world’s weirdest and wackiest ones for you today.

So whether you’re into getting chased by bulls, partaking in water fights, dancing naked in the middle of the desert or simply enjoying an array of sounds and colours, here are a few overseas festivals for you to consider attending on your gap year.

Holi in India

Also known as the festival of colours, Holi is an ancient Hindu festival, which is celebrated all across the country in spring. Holi starts in the evening with a ‘Holika’ bonfire, for which people gather to sing and dance, then the following morning, everyone plays in coloured powder and sprays water over one another from water balloons and pistols.

The most refreshing thing (besides getting splashed with water) is that this is a festival for everyone; no matter whether you’re a local or a tourist, young or old, rich or poor, you’ll be warmly welcomed to take part in the celebrations.

As well as a whole lot of colour, expect to see groups carrying drums and musical instruments and wandering from place to place, singing and dancing.

Songkran Water Festival in Thailand

Similar to Holi, the Songkran Water Festival provides the opportunity for people to pour ice cold water over one another, as part of a cleansing ritual to welcome in the New Year.

Fortunately, this festival falls over the hottest period of the year, so fret not, you won’t come away from it with pneumonia! Sometimes chalk or menthol is mixed into the water to create a paste, which people smear on each other’s faces for good fortune.

On top of this, you’ll see elephants, an important part of Thai culture, walking around splashing water jets at people – it doesn’t get much better than that!

Running of the Bulls in Spain

The Running of the Bulls is a practice that involves running in front of a small group of fierce bulls in Pamplona that have been let loose on the city’s streets. Its origins date back to the festival of San Fermin in the 13th century, when the bulls were transported to the bullring, where they would feature in the afternoon bullfight on the same day in Pamplona.

Each year hundreds of people rather unsurprisingly get injured during the run, though these injuries don’t tend to be serious and most people that fall down get back up and carry on. There are also a number of ‘bull shepherds’ that oversee the run, stopping people from inciting the bulls and helping those that are stranded to continue running. Still, not sure I’m convinced…

Day of the Dead in Mexico

It sounds creepy as hell, I know, but Day of the Dead is actually a colorful and exuberant festival that celebrates death, as opposed to mourning it. Throughout the country, people pray for loved ones that have passed away and commemorate them by going to the cemeteries to be with their souls and building private altars containing food, drink, flowers and photographs.

Pillows and blankets are also left out, the idea being that the dead can finally rest after their long journey. During this period, the streets are decorated with candles, incense and skulls, which the names of the departed are inscribed on, and revellers sing and dance as they make their way to the burial ground.

Burning Man in Nevada

Drone's view of Burning Man 2014 from Eric Cheng on Vimeo.

Essentially a week of art, music and utter madness held in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where thousands of people gather to dance, perform, create art and express their individuality in a number of other ways, there's really nothing else on Planet Earth quite like Burning Man.

The event, which takes it name from the giant wooden effigy that gets burned on the last night, began with just eight people back in 1986 and has grown at an unbelievable rate over the years.

People who have attended Burning Man claim you need to go yourself to really understand what it’s all about, but it’s definitely a good way to step back from reality and into a world where artistic and personal freedom are at the core.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year is the grandest and most important festival for the country’s residents, as well as being one of the oldest, with over 4,000 years of history. Celebrations traditionally run from Chinese New Year’s Eve to the Lantern Festival with dragons, fireworks, flowers and lanterns adorning the streets during this period and colourful activities taking place.

In the same way as Christmas is a family time for us Westerners, Chinese New Year is a time for families in China to get together and celebrate family reunion. People from different regions and ethnic groups throughout the country have their own unique ways of marking this special event.

Rio de Janeiro Carnival

Considered the biggest carnival in the world, Carnival in Rio de Janeiro sees approximately two million people pour out onto the streets each day, where they drink, dance and follow the parade floats.

The vibe here is electric as the city comes together to enjoy the Samba parades, pulsating music and beautiful, bronzed dancers that can be found across Rio. It is held every year during the week leading up to Lent, when people from across the globe travel over to Brazil to partake in the celebrations.

Above all, it is the inherent spirit of the residents of Rio de Janeiro, aka ‘Cariocas’, that make this such a glorious festival.

Away You Go

Have you been to any of the above festivals? Or can you think of one that we’ve missed off the list? Let us know by posting in the comments box below.

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