The Light Shines On: Amsterdam to Sydney, best of Diwali-like festivals around world

November 15, 2020 12:30 AM

During the Amsterdam Light Festival, the city comes to life. Designers and architects from around the world submit their ideas to be presented at the festival. Among these, only 30 are selected by a committee for installations.

Sydney's festival of lights is a celebration of light, ideas and music. It is organised in May-June to celebrate the city as Asia-Pacific's creative hub.Sydney's festival of lights is a celebration of light, ideas and music. It is organised in May-June to celebrate the city as Asia-Pacific's creative hub.

By Reya Mehrotra

Diwali isn’t the only ‘festival of lights’. From England’s Bonfire Night to Australia’s Vivid Sydney, there are many prominent light festivals around the world based on different myths and beliefs

Yee Peng, Thailand

The festival is celebrated mainly in Thailand’s Chiang Mai city on the full moon of the 12th lunar month every year, which is in November. The Thai ‘festival of lights’ has Brahmin origins. On this day, thousands of floating lanterns are released into the night sky with a belief that the bundle of lights will take away the ills and misfortunes away as they float up. Traditionally, it was celebrated to mark the end of monsoons and beginning of winters, but now, it is celebrated along with the Loy Krathong festival or the floating banana trunk festival.

Amsterdam Light Festival, the Netherlands

During the Amsterdam Light Festival, the city comes to life. Designers and architects from around the world submit their ideas to be presented at the festival. Among these, only 30 are selected by a committee for installations. It is celebrated during winters and for 2020-21, the dates are December 10 till January 3, 2021. Its origins date back to the 1920s when light art gained prominence around European cities. The first major Dutch light event, called Edison Light Week, took place in 1929. Various buildings were adorned with light bulbs to attract visitors.

Las Fallas, Spain

The five-day festival is celebrated in Valencia, Spain, from March 15 to March 19. It is a religious holiday that marks the arrival of spring. On this day, the Valencians commemorate Saint Jose, the patron saint of carpentry. The festival is celebrated with fireworks and fiestas, giant puppets and bonfires. The spirit of the festival is felt the whole month. Its origin is rooted in the tradition that pieces of wood that were used to prop up lights during winters were burnt to celebrate the arrival of spring by carpenters. The grand festival is celebrated in high spirits.

Hanukkah

Also called the Festival of Heights, it is observed for eight days every year between November and December. The festival marks the Second Temple’s rededication in Jerusalem around 160 BC by the army of the Maccabees after then Kind Antiochus IV had decreed that Jews worship Greek gods and outlawed Jewish religion and practices. Jewish families light one candle on a candle holder each night during Hanukkah starting from the far right, just like Hebrew is read from right to left. During the festival, Jews consume fried potato pancakes, also called latkes, which is the most traditional dish. It is consumed with apple sauce or sour cream. Other dishes include brisket and kugel.

Lantern Festival, China

Also called Spring Lantern Festival, this Chinese festival is celebrated on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the Chinese calendar (between February and March). Its origins trace back to more than 2,000 years ago when Buddhism was growing in China. Emperor Ming of Han, an advocate of Buddhism, noticed that Buddhists light lanterns on the day and so adopted the ritual. It also marks the celebration of the declining darkness of winters. On the day, people gather to enjoy the lanterns and indulge in other community events.

Fete Des Lumieres, France

Meaning Festival of Lights in English, this one is celebrated in December in Lyon, France, to express gratitude towards Mother Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. All houses place candles outside the windows to light up the night. Buildings are also lighted up to showcase the heritage of the city.

Aomori Nebuta Matsuri, Japan
The Japanese summer festival is celebrated in August every year. Giant decorated floats are paraded during the festival and into the sea on the final day as a fireworks show is held. It is one of the three great festivals of the Tohoku region and one of Japan’s most famous festivals. The lanterns serve both as a prayer for good health and a cleansing ritual.

New Hampshire Pumpkin Festival, US

It is celebrated in Laconia, New Hampshire, US, before Halloween in October. During the festival, residents try to amass great numbers of lit pumpkin lanterns, trying to break previous years’ record. In 2003, the city of Keene set the record for lighting more than 28,900 lanterns. It was broken by Boston in 2006 as the city amassed more than 30,000 lanterns. However, Keene took back the record in 2013 by amassing more than 30,500 lanterns.

Bonfire Night, England

Also called Guy Fawkes Day, it is celebrated on November 5 to commemorate the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. A holiday, it is celebrated with bonfire and fireworks lit nationwide. The Gunpowder Plot was an attempt to blow up the parliament and King James I to end the persecution of Roman Catholics by the English government.

Vivid Sydney, Australia

Sydney’s festival of lights is a celebration of light, ideas and music. It is organised in May-June to celebrate the city as Asia-Pacific’s creative hub.

Family events, large-scale immersive light projections, music performances by artists, talks, workshops and conferences form the centrepieces of the festival. The first Vivid Sydney event was held on May 26, 2009, across a number of locations in the city like Chatswood, Barangaroo, Taronga Zoo, etc.

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