Taking part in local festivals and celebrations is an effective way to immerse yourself in the culture of your host country. These experiences give you firsthand insight into cultural nuances that are difficult to obtain through books or lectures.
From the gastronomic traditions of Oktoberfest in Germany to the color-filled Holi festival of spring in India, here are some of the best festivals and celebrations to experience on your study abroad program.
Harvest festivals are an opportunity to give thanks for a successful season and celebrate with food. As leaves turn color and fruits and vegetables ripen, communities come together for these fun festivities that offer family-friendly activities, food samples and live music. From North Carolina pecans to cranberry jam, there are plenty of harvest celebrations to choose from.
In a town known for its apples, this namesake festival showcases local apple products from farmers and vendors. Visitors can participate in an apple pie baking contest and try other seasonal favorites like cheese and wine. The festival also includes a parade, arts and crafts and musical entertainment.
The traditional agriculture show is taken to the next level at this annual event, which is the world’s largest totally irrigated working farm show. Hundreds of exhibitors display their goods and conduct demonstrations in the field, on the educational stage and at craft areas. The festival also offers kids’ activities, a color run, the “Sugar on the Scoop” ice cream eating competition and Pumpkin Chuckin’, where teams build their own trebuchets to see who can launch a pumpkin the farthest.
Located at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, this fall festival showcases the region’s heritage through music, dance and cuisine. Sample the foods grown at nearby farms and learn about historic cooking techniques in the demonstration kitchens.
At this event, foodies can sample more than 180 artisan vendors and sip on beer from a dozen local breweries. This indoor festival focuses on small producers and their harvest bounty, from apples to potatoes. Guests can also attend cooking demonstrations and sample foods from the area’s restaurants and cafes.
A small town in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains embraces its Norwegian roots with this festival. The event is a mix of carnival rides, a rodeo and food. Plattsmouth’s most popular product is corn, so you can expect plenty of it at this festival. You can even compete in the corn-eating contest, which has been going on for more than 20 years. Visitors can also sample other regional favorite foods such as smoked salmon, apples and pears.
New Year’s Celebrations
The New Year is marked by many festivals and celebrations around the world. Its history dates back to ancient civilizations and it is one of the most universally celebrated holidays. Today, people around the world celebrate the New Year by attending parties, eating special New Year’s foods, and making resolutions for the new year.
The earliest record of New Year’s celebrations is from the Babylonians in about 2000 bce, who used the first new moon following the vernal equinox (the day in late March with an equal amount of daylight and darkness) as the start of the new year. The celebrations lasted for 11 days and included various rituals to bring luck for the coming year.
In modern times, people around the world mark the new year by attending parties and watching the countdown to midnight in places like Times Square or Trafalgar Square. The celebrations are televised and watched by millions of viewers worldwide.
Foods that are traditionally eaten on New Year’s Eve vary by culture and region. In the United States, black-eyed peas and collard greens are popular choices. These are dishes thought to bestow good luck for the new year. Other popular New Year’s Eve foods include carrot cake, cranberry juice, and champagne.
People also make New Year’s resolutions that can range from getting in better shape to saving more money. In fact, about 70% of Americans make resolutions each year to try and improve themselves.
A traditional New Year’s Eve song is Auld Lang Syne, a Scottish folk song written by Robert Burns in the 18th century. Many people sing this together at midnight to say goodbye to the old year and welcome in the new one.
As the USA is home to many different cultures, there are a variety of festivals and celebrations that take place in the country each year. Some are a chance to learn more about a particular culture or religion while others offer an opportunity to have fun and party with friends. Whatever your reason, these festivals are a great way to immerse yourself in the cultural heritage of the United States and have a blast doing it!
Festivals of Light
The holiday season gets lit up with light shows and festivities across the USA and around the world. Whether you’re soaking in the beauty of an outdoor lighting exhibition, a light-drenched performance or the magic of a family New Year’s Eve celebration, these events showcase the power of love and unity during this time of year.
The dazzling lights and displays of the Festival of Lights in Lyon, France, attract visitors from all over the world. The festivities take place during the months of November and December and last for over four days. During this time, the entire city is adorned with colored lights. Illuminated floats and music are also part of this festival.
In Germany, the city of Berling is a sight to behold when it hosts the Festival of Lights. This festival is free to attend and showcases different forms of illumination. In addition, the event features concerts and other performances.
San Francisco is illuminated for the holidays with epic outdoor installations of dazzling light art. Starting the day after Thanksgiving and running through January, the city shines brightest during this festive celebration.
Another festive light display is the Jokkmokk Light Festival in Sweden’s Lapland, which takes place during the month of January or February. The festival celebrates the winter solstice and the return of sunlight. In addition, the festival pays tribute to the northern lights and the Sami people who live in the area.
The holiday season in NYC is a glittering, spectacular experience with plenty of lights and festivities to enjoy. In addition to the tree lighting at Rockefeller Center on November 29, you can see a giant menorah in Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza, a light show at the New York Botanical Garden (November 22-January 1) and the Holiday Train Show featuring miniature NYC landmarks at Queens County Museum of Science.
Santa’s Workshop is open for the holidays at LEGOLAND Florida (November 18-January 6). This action-packed attraction will keep kids entertained with a mini roller coaster, Santa’s Workshop and more. Other fun activities include the Gingerbread Village, a parade and the holiday musical O Wondrous Night.
There are many religious holidays for different faiths celebrated in the United States. These include the High Holy Days for Jews, Ramadan for Muslims, the Day of Vesak for Buddhists, Diwali for Hindus, and Christmas for Christians.
February 1 – Tu Bishvat: This Jewish holiday celebrates the anniversary of the planting of trees and is an ancient festival of nature and life.
March 25 – Ash Wednesday: The day preceding Lent, a season of fasting and devotion in Christianity that culminates on Easter. March 27 – Candlemas: Also known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple or Hypapante, this Christian festival commemorates Mary’s dedication of Jesus to God in the Temple and is observed primarily in Catholic communities.
April 12 – Good Friday: The day commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus and his death. Also known as Black Friday, Great and Holy Friday, or the Service of the Three Hours Agony, it is a solemn day observed by various Christian denominations.
May 23* – Vesak: The most important festival of the Theravada Buddhist faith that marks the birth, enlightenment, and death of Buddha. Also referred to as Buddha Jayanti, Buddha Purnima, and Buddha Day.
June 6 – Shavuot: A Jewish holiday that combines a harvest festival with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is also observed by Jains. June 9 – Race Unity Day: A Baha’i faith holiday that promotes racial harmony and understanding. June 10 – Martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev Sahib: A Sikh holiday that honors the first martyr in their faith.
November 1-2 – Dias de los Muertos, Samhain, and All Saints Day: Multiple overlapping festivals of the dead for Wiccan/Neo-Pagan and Mexican and other Latin/x religious communities.
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