National Holidays: Experiential Travel at Its Best

  • Ethan Gelber
  • 4 July 2012

The (northern hemisphere) summer holiday season is now well and truly upon us, complete with major celebrations. On July 1, our Canadian friends feted Canada Day, a commemoration of the country’s 1867 quasi-independence from the UK. Today, July 4, Americans fire up the barbecue (and dodge firecrackers) to mark the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence. On July 14, the French head en masse to the military parade on the Champs-Elysées to observe Bastille Day, the 1789 storming of the eponymous prison.

girls and a dog on the Fourth of July in the USA

Fourth of July in the USA. Photo courtesy of Flickr/Michele Markel Connors

Of course, there are at least a dozen more ‘national independence days‘ in July and scores more, including plain ‘national days‘ throughout the year, pretty much at least one for every country on earth… and even some that aren’t officially recognised.

Why bring this up, other than as an obvious excuse to wish our American readers a very happy Fourth of July? Well, independent travellers with a particular penchant for direct, deep and engaging discovery – something sometimes called experiential travel – of new lands and cultures often wrap their travel plans around major happenings, like festive national days.

Here, then, are some of our favourites.

Chinese celebrate the New Year with a splash

Like countries throughout Asia, China celebrates the New Year with a splash in some areas

New Year, Asian Style

New Year’s Day is a time to bid farewell to the year that was and greet the year that will be with joy and hope for positive change. It is celebrated all over the world and often welcomed with a bang (literally). In the Western world, festive New Year’s events occur on the 1st of January, the first day of the Gregorian calendar. However, for millions of people on the other side of the world, the Asian New Year is ushered in on different days of the year, often in keeping with the lunar calendar.

Read more about other awesome Asian festivals:


Unlike in Rio, the dances in Oruro never change because each one corresponds to a Bolivian folk story. These Caporales dancers depicted, represent the story of the Yungueno slaves and their rich costumes show the money that their slave owners paid for, and profited from them. Photo courtesy of Maureen Valentine


Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has a well-deserved reputation as host of the biggest Carnival celebration in the world. Nowhere else on earth is this gloriously wanton Christian holiday of feasting before fasting quite as grand in scale. In fact, all over Brazil, wild and massive celebrations compete for the Carnival spotlight. This makes it easy to forget that Carnival is celebrated with the same passion and gusto in many other parts of the world as well!

Read more about boogying in the streets:

Photo of the Week (2 May 2010) - The Pentecost Jump, Vanuatu

On the Vanuatu island of Pentecost, a yearly ritual of death-defying land jumps, called Nagol (or N’gol), is performed in celebration of the yam harvest. Photo courtesy of John Nicholls

The Pentecost Jump, Vanuatu

Much has been written about the island of Pentecost (part of the Vanuatu archipelago) and its yearly ritual of death-defying land jumps performed in the south of the island in celebration of the yam harvest. The Nagol (or N’gol) ritual of land diving has been performed for hundreds of years, and also doubles as a male coming of age ceremony. Following the wet season (January to April), men and boys above the age of seven tie elastic vines to their ankles. In accordance with the height required by the jumpers, the other ends of these vines are then tethered to different levels of a specially constructed tower.

Read more about unique cultural rites of passage:

SantaCon in New York City

Free Christmas expression at its best during SantaCon, here celebrated in New York City. Photo courtesy of Flickr/ÐIÐËO

End-of-Year Renewal: Out with Old Year, In with the New

The end-of-year holidays do funny things to people. They’re annual stock-takings that can prompt bouts of deep introspection or draw people outside of themselves. Sometimes the guiding force is spiritual, other times much more concrete. Whatever the case, we usually welcome the flip of the calendar page, the fall of another digit in our steady forward progress through time.

We also think that year end is a magical time to travel, a special chance to take in places dressed up in their best and eager to embrace all.

Read more about end-of-year celebrations:

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Ethan Gelber

In addition to his freelance travel writing (Lonely Planet author, ex-AFAR Ambassador, Huffington Post Travel blogger and more), Ethan has agitated tirelessly for responsible/sustainable travel practices, family travel, keeping things local, and quality and relevance in publishing and destination marketing. Among many other things, Ethan is editorial director of the Family Travel Association, a co-founder of OutBounding, and tackles content projects for HomeExchange.com and RW Social, which produces the NY Trav Fest. Previously, Ethan was Chief Communications Officer of the WHL Group, for which he founded and edited The Travel Word (this now-independent blog); publications manager of the French government tourist office (Atout France) in NYC; and helped manage a Paris-based bicycle tour operator.
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festivals & events, HIFeat, holy sites, indigenous culture, local knowledge, music, top five, whl.travel,

3 Responses to “National Holidays: Experiential Travel at Its Best”

  1. Thanks for the comment, Heather! I’ve always enjoyed traveling around a holiday. Everything seems, well, brighter!

  2. heather rath says:

    Ethan—a thoughtful article that is making us think about where to go for our next adventure. Thank you!

  3. I love being able to celebrate both new and old holidays while living abroad. I just recently celebrated Canada Day in South Korea and I’m embracing all of the Korean national holidays as well.

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