Festivals are a living, dancing museum of cultures and traditions in an increasingly globalised world. There is no better place for travellers to understand a country than an event where it proudly celebrates its individuality, whether through music, camel races or monumental food fights.
The top festivities for November are listed below.
Location: Oaxaca, Mexico
Dates: 1–2 November
Mexico’s Carnivalesque remembrance of departed souls is one of the world’s most universally familiar festivals. Its papier-mâché skeletons and candy skulls are as recognisable as the jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween. Westerners find the Latino rave from beyond the grave, with its upbeat treatment of immortality, both fascinating and confronting. Read more.
Location: Puno, Peru
Dates: Week leading up to 5 November
There are various stories about the roots of La Diablada, in which men dressed as demons are added to Puno’s usual population of women in multilayered dresses and bowler hats. According to one version of events, the horned parade hits the streets in remembrance of the departure of the devilish conquistadors in the late 19th century. Read more.
Location: National Cemetery, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
Dates: 1–2 November
The Voodoo festival of Fete Gede is the religion’s version of Day of the Dead, a major difference being that the Haitian spirits are friskier. Indeed, there are stories of the Gede, as the spirits are known, gatecrashing the president and demanding money. He paid up, of course. Read more.
Location: High St, Lewes, East Sussex, England
Date: 5 November
Bonfire Night is a classically English affair where burning effigies and fireworks illuminate the winter night in memory of centuries-old skulduggery. The story behind the event is as gripping as the Catherine wheels. In the early 17th century, some English folk were hoping that their new monarch, James I, would relax the hardline Protestantism favoured by his predecessors. One group of Catholics was particularly disappointed when this situation failed to materialise. So, naturally, they decided to blow up the Houses of Parliament, with the king, his eldest sons and most of parliament inside the building. Read more.
Location: Rocca Canterano, Italy
The event has no truck with lovelorn moping. Rolling down the main street on allegorical floats, costumed actors recite satirical compositions about the whole ugly business of betrayals and bust-ups. The festival has an unofficial patroness, an honour for which self-respecting celebrities would surely swap an Oscar. America’s Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, has been lucky enough to hold the title. Read more.
Location: George Town Harbour, Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands
Dates: Ten days in mid-November
The only festival to take place on all three of the Cayman isles, the Pirate Festival is geared towards infant swashbucklers. The ten-day programme of music, dances, costumes, games and controlled mayhem begins with a mock invasion. Two replica 17th-century galleons, accompanied by other boats and even the odd submarine, all swarming with rogues, carry out a ‘surprise’ attack on George Town Harbour. Read more.
Location: Richterswil, Switzerland
Date: Second Saturday in November
Apart from being used as a phallic plot device in Blackadder, the turnip has never enjoyed much limelight. In an attempt to correct this criminal neglect, the good people of Richterswil, a small town on Lake Zürich, organise an annual celebration of the vegetable. Read more.
Location: Pushkar, Rajasthan, India
Dates: The festival concludes on the full moon of the Hindu lunar month of Kartika, which falls in October or November
Rajasthan’s most famous festival is less and less about the eponymous camels and more about a rollickin’ good time, though the dunes outside of Pushkar are still a sight (and a smell) to behold when the cameleers come to town. Drawing in 50,000 camels and 200,000 people, the fair is ostensibly a time when Rajasthani farmers gather to buy and sell their camels, cattle and horses – most of the trading, however, is completed in the days leading up to the fair. Read more.
Location: Sri Narong Stadium, Surin, Thailand
Dates: Third weekend in November
Thousands of Thais and travellers stampede into provincial Surin for the country’s biggest elephant show. The monumental mammals are coaxed to play soccer, sprint at up to 35km/h and pick up tiny objects with their trunks. One takes on 70 beefy soldiers at tug-of-war. There are demonstrations of log-pulling, a job for which Thais commonly use elephants, and re-enactments of old hunting and war scenes featuring vintage pachyderm costumes. Read more.
Location: Otori shrines, Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan
Dates: Every 12 days in November
Taking place on the Days of the Rooster (according to the Chinese zodiac), this event normally happens twice a year. In the occasional years when it occurs three times, superstitious doomsayers believe there will be many fires. However, it’s invariably an upbeat occasion, where the festival-goers visit Otori shrines to ask for abundant harvests and shedloads of sales. Markets spring up around the shrines – the largest, in Tokyo’s Asakusa area, attracts tens of thousands of visitors to some 200 stalls. Read more.
Location: Golden Temple, Amritsar, Punjab, India
Dates: Indian lunar month of Aghan (November/December)
Among the prakash divas (birthdays of Sikhism’s 10 great gurus), the most important are the ceremonies held for the religion’s founder. All over Punjab, India’s Sikh state, the turban-wearing Sikhs visit gurdwaras (temples). The celebrations are most impressive at Amritsar’s beautiful Golden Temple, the most revered gurdwara and home of the original copy of Sikh holy book the Guru Granth Sahib. Read more.
Location: Lingsar, Lombok, Indonesia
Date: Sixth full moon in the Sasak calendar (November/December)
At this quirky harvest festival, the Hindu and Muslim residents of Lombok, east of Bali, unite to pelt each other with boiled rice. The food fight takes a week of preparation. On the big day, the Sasak Wektu Telu community joins its Hindu neighbours at a singularly appropriately location, the Pura Lingsar. This 18th-century temple was built by Hindus, but the temple compound also contains the Kemaliq, a Muslim shrine. Read more.
Location: Lopburi, Thailand
Date: One day in November
In Lopburi, 90km north of Bangkok, take extra care of your valuables, because the town is overrun with simian kleptomaniacs. Despite their light-fingered ways, residents are so fond of the long-tailed macaques that a local hotelier treats them to an annual feast. Read more.
Location: New York City, New York, USA
Date: Fourth Thursday in November
Thanksgiving is a most renowned festival, thanks to firsthand experience for North Americans and to slushy Hollywood movies for the rest of the planet. The holiday is up there with Christmas as an excuse for gorging on turkey and snoozing in front of the TV. Read more.
Location: Merwin Village Rd, Ariel, Washington, USA
Date: Saturday after Thanksgiving
Code-named ‘Norjak’ by the FBI, it’s America’s only unsolved hijacking investigation. On 24 November 1971, a nondescript man held up a Boeing 727 with a bomb threat and parachuted into the night with $200,000 strapped to his waist. DB Cooper was gone, leaving only a mother-of-pearl tie clip. The lakeside town of Ariel in Washington State, where authorities initially thought Cooper had landed, became the base for the search party. Read more.