In the northern hemisphere, late summer and harvest time are upon us. We are reminded of the earth’s bounty as agriculturalists reap the fruits of the land. Across cultures far and wide, harvest is a time of feasting and merriment.
The best thing about harvest festivals is that they are local and small-scale by nature. Every region has its own seasons and crops to celebrate, with its own customs and rituals surrounding the harvest.
In honour of harvest time and its distinctly local flavour, The Travel Word has assembled seven off-the-beaten-path celebrations from around the globe.
The Rose Festival in Bulgaria
Every year in May, there is a region in Bulgaria where the air fills with the smell of roses and folklore sounds. Visitors are welcome to join the local rose festivals celebrated in every village throughout the Rose Valley. My favourite part of these festivals is the early-morning picking of the rose petals, which we use later for the preparation of a tasty homemade rose jam. Once crowned with a rose wreath and covered in rose essence, you can move your feet at the folklore dances and take part in the masquerade carnivals. Rose charms and good vibes are guaranteed!
~ Stela Samouneva, local travel specialist in Bulgaria
Gawai Dayak in Sarawak
Gawai Dayak is celebrated yearly on the 1st of June in Sarawak to mark the end of the rice harvest season. This festival symbolises unity, aspiration and hope for the Dayak community. The festivities commence in longhouses with religious rituals, traditional music and dance, grand feasts and tuak (rice wine) drinking. The festival lasts for several days and involves competitions such as cock fighting, blowpipe matches and beauty pageants. To mark the end of the festival, the host performs a ceremony called Ngiling Tikai. This is done by rolling up a rattan mat that has been laid out in the middle of the ruai (the open space in the longhouse). Gawai Dayak is the best time to visit Sarawak as there are aplenty of festivity-embracing visitors immersed in the celebrations.
Pasola in Sumba, Indonesia
In Sumba, Indonesia, the harvest is celebrated with harrowing sportsmanship. Pasola is a riotous tournament between hundreds of horse riders carrying bundles of blunt spears to be thrown at their opponents. Hundreds of horse riders and onlookers from different clans participate in the Pasola Festival. Each group of two horsemen runs their horses as fast as possible toward the opposing group and throws their spears in the hope striking their opponents or their opponents’ horses.
Early in the morning of Pasola, the whole village searches the beach for nyale (a sea worm that normally appears on the shore around Pasola day). The number of nyale collected is believed to be a sign of the richness of the farmers’ next harvest season.
~ Partake in Pasola with Ng Sebastian of Incito Tours, the whl.travel local connection in Indonesia’s Komodo and Lesser Sunda Islands
Ongkor Festival in Tibet
Ongkor Festival or Bumper Harvest Festival is celebrated in the rural areas of Tibet and especially popular in the Lhasa, Lhoka and Shigatse prefectures. It occurs two or three days before the actual harvesting, usually between July and August of the Tibetan Calendar. Each region may have a different date for it, which varies with the harvest season. During festival time, people hold sheaves of wheat and walk around the farmland. Lamas and elder farmers head up the parade, holding Buddha statues and chanting sutra to pray for a harvest year.
Following the ceremony, traditional celebrations erupt and include horse racing, yak racing, Tibetan opera, archery and tug-of-war. Every village family also prepares food and drink and wears nice clothes to enjoy the celebrations with friends and relatives. The festival has more than 1500 years of history now.
~ Sherry and the team at Tibet Tour Professionals, the whl.travel local connection in Tibet
The Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul in Malta
Our favourite harvest festival on the Mediterranean island of Malta is the traditional feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. It is celebrated at the end of June at the outskirts of Rabat. The festival features an agricultural show during the day, complete with displays of animals, fruits, vegetables and many other local exhibits. Traditional races of horses and donkeys are held in the afternoon in the vicinity of Mdina. In the evening, there’s a feast beneath the trees, accompanied by local songs and other traditional entertainment.
Tadau Kaamatan in Borneo
Tadau Kaamatan is a harvest festival celebrated by the Kadazandusun people of Sabah in Malaysia. Kaamatan itself refers to the paddy-harvesting period. The climax of this celebration is the Sugandoi or singing competition and state-level beauty pageant, where Kadazandusun beauties representing districts all over Sabah vie for the Unduk Ngadau title. The peak celebration is held at the KDCA complex in Penampang every 31st of May, when tourists and locals are welcome to join in the merry-making.
Miķeļu Day Market in Riga, Latvia
Every September on the last Saturday of the month, Riga, Latvia, throws a big harvest party (also known as the Miķeļu Day Market). Hundreds of farmers set up their stalls at the Riga Town Hall and Riga Dome squares. They sell fresh produce as well as handmade crafts. The feast becomes joyful with lots of folk dancing and singing.
The harvest festival is an ancient tradition that extends back to pagan times before Christianity. It was celebrated on the equinox, when night and day are of the same length, signalling the end of summer. It was also know as the season when the souls of the dead returned to this world to check on their posterity. All crops had to be harvested and the fields had to be prepared for the long winter ahead. The celebrations were among the happiest of the year as the summer harvest provided an amazing feast for all participants.
~ Anda Cirule of Blueberry Travel, the former whl.travel local connection in Latvia