Parades and celebrations are a great opportunity to get up close to cultures and local traditions that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. So in the spirt of adventure and discovery, we’ve found some of the most wonderful parades from across the globe that yo should make to attend.
Dia de los Muertos
We begin our journey on the street of Mexico, home of Dia de los Muertos- or Day of the Dead. This two-day religious holiday is based on rituals that date back around 3000 years and is said to be a night which the dead can reunite with their living relatives.
Rather than being a time to mourn, Dia de los Muertos has long been a time for families to celebrate loved ones who have passed. More recently, it has begun to open up to visitors from all over who can get the chance to learn and take part in this intrinsic piece of Mexican culture.
Festivities are now held across the world. In some places, Dia de los Muertos goes on for an entire parade- and party-filled week. The ‘Legends of Mexico’ is one such parade that you shouldn’t miss out on, with giant floats covered with golden marigolds , vivid sugars skulls and plenty of local food and drink to tuck into.
Mardi Gras, or ‘Fat Tuesday’ when translated from French, is a Christian holiday thought to be rooted in pagan spring and fertility rituals from thousand of years ago.
These days it’s a little but different. There’s still lots of food to enjoy- especially king cake- but now the festival goes on for an entire week or even months. The 2023 season of New Orleans Mardi Gras, one of the most famous of its kind, is scheduled to begin in January and go on until Fat Tuesday in March.
In New Orleans, you’ll be treated each weekend to parades of massive floats designed by the ‘Krewes’ who each build their parade around a given theme. The Krewe du Vieux, for example, is known for it’s highly satirical parades and for showcasing some of the best traditional bands in New Orleans.
Carnival in Basel
Carnival in Basel, sometimes called Dame Fasnacht or just Fasnacht locally, is one of the many iterations of Mardi Gras that occur worldwide each year.
The small Swiss city of Basel has been hosting their own Mardi Gras celebration since 1529. They’ve added so much of their own twist to it that it’s now become the biggest carnival in Switzerland and has been named UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
The three-day festival begins in the dark at 4 am, when the streets will suddenly be illuminated by a parade of music, beautiful lanterns, and one or two political statements. This is called Morgestraich (or Morgenstreich) and is only the first of the parades that take place during Carnival.
For instance, the aptly named ‘Big Parade’ features people disguised from head-to-toe in various costumes throwing candy, confetti, and other trinkets at onlookers.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival
What makes the Cheung Chau Bun Festival a sight to behold are the three giant bun towers that grace the Pak Tai Temple on the beautiful little Cheung Chau Island, which is just offshore of Hong Kong.
The origins of this festival are stepped in myth and are said to be a celebration of how the god Pak Thai saved the village from a plague in the late 19th Century.
During the days-long event, onlookers will be able to witness an array of colourful parades that begin and end at Pak Tai- the very same route said to have been taken by the god. The parade are a feast for the eyes ( and your tummy if you manage to grab a ‘lucky bun’), featuring lion dances, marching bands, and the gravity-defying sight of a piu sik parade.
This is where several children are precariously positioned so they appear to be floating above the rest of the parade.
Up Helly Aa
Our final stop on this tour of parades takes us to Lerwick, Shetland, which hosts Europe’s biggest fire festival at the end of January – Up Helly Aa.
While the Shetland Islands are a part of Scotland and thus the UK, historically they were first colonised by Scandinavian countries in the 8th and 9th centuries, which explains the distinct Norse theme that runs through festival. Although, Up Helly Aa itself didn’t come into existence until the 19th century as a new year celebration.
While there are events that take place during the day, the real show doesn’t begin until after the has gone down. Almost 1000 torchbearers will march through the streets led by a Jarl who stands at the head of a huge replica longship. The longship is pulled to the burning site, where the Jarl leaves and the torchbearers throw their torches onto the ship, setting it alight in a spectacular fiery finale before joining in traditional Viking song.
There’s so much to be learned about the culture and customs of a place from visiting a parade or festival – so get yourself equipped with a stylish umbrella and start planning which one you’re going to go to first!