The Best Fall Festivals Around the World
What do hot-air balloons, floating lanterns, and beer all have in common? They all help ring in the fall season. Across cultures and around the globe, fall is a time of celebration that often includes themes of light, color, and food. The nature of fall festivals is rooted in the ancient world, when harvest was of central importance. But today, you don't need a reason for a party.
Americans head to the pumpkin patch for hayrides, cities like London set off fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day—a night of extravagance that dates back centuries. Festivals of light like Hinduism’s Diwali and Thailand’s Yi Peng draw large crowds of revelers who celebrate the triumph of good over evil. And in other places, smaller scale festivities take place revering local crops—like the North African date.
Whether it be a feast that’s too large to contain, or a city whose streets are overtaken by puppets (here’s to you, New York Halloween Parade), the fall is a time to throw one last hoorah before the winter arrives. Ahead, we have a look at some of the world’s best fall festivals—from grand to obscure.
Guy Fawkes Night, United Kingdom
You’ve heard it before: "Remember remember the fifth of November." Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, this British festival recalls the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when King James I escaped a planned assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes (and other English Catholics). Today Fawkes’ effigy is burned and grand fireworks displays are set off over the Tower Bridge. Many of the violent aspects of Guy Fawkes Day have since been lost and replaced by parades of costumed people bearing torches and marching through the streets of London and other cities throughout Britain.
New York City’s Village Halloween Parade, United States
No story about fall festivals is complete without mention of Halloween. New York’s Village Halloween Parade all started in 1974 with Ralph Lee, a local puppeteer, who focuses on nontraditional outlets for his work. Every year on Halloween, anything goes on the streets of Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, where ornate masks and towering costume displays proceed in what is America’s only nighttime parade and the largest puppeteering event. And while the commonplace garb of witches and ghouls is easily found, there’s always something of the obscure and unexplainable to be seen.
Loi Krathong, Thailand & Laos
Loi Krathong means “to float a basket” and in Thailand, along with parts of Laos, this festival involves sending decorated baskets (known as krathongs) down river and decorating the home with candles. But perhaps the most vibrant part of this southeast Asian celebration is the Yi Peng festival, or the releasing of paper lanterns into the sky. All at once, the night sky is illuminated by floating lights. In large cities like Bangkok, it’s nearly impossible to miss a Yi Peng celebration. Simply head to the water and you'll be surrounded by light.
Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, United States
Who doesn’t love balloons? Each year in October in Albuquerque, New Mexico hundreds of balloons are sent into the sky—hot-air balloons that is. The fiesta, as it’s come to be known, lasts nine days and draws hot-air balloon professionals and onlookers alike. It all started in 1972 as a celebration of a local radio station’s 50th birthday. Today, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has become a massive gathering of gigantic colors over the desert landscape. It remains the world’s largest hot-air balloon festival and has shed light on the unique culture of the American Southwest.
MassKara Festival, Philippines
On the third weekend of October, the city of Bacolod in the Philippines hosts the MassKara Festival—a carnival-style celebration that fills the streets. Rooted in times of crisis, the MassKara Festival was born in 1980 when a major boat accident killed hundreds of locals. The city’s artists and community leaders decided to throw a “festival of smiles” to counteract the hardship. And today it remains with a parade of costumed dancers, many bearing masks that features large happy grins on their faces.
Mid-Autumn Festival, China and Vietnam
When the full moon arrives between September and October, Chinese and Vietnamese partake in the Mid-Autumn Festival (also appropriately known as the Moon Festival). Giving thanks and prayer are the central tenets of this festival. Cities across China and Vietnam come alive with grand lantern displays—everything from dragons to flowers, which are often sent floating down rivers. The festival’s origins are inspired by the moon, which was worshipped in ancient China as a source of rejuvenation. Revelers look forward to sweets like mooncakes—round pastries typically filled with lotus bean paste. In cities like Hong Kong, the festival gets even more intense with the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance—a ritual said to ward off bad luck.
Diwali, India (and Worldwide)
From India to Guyana to Fiji, the importance of Diwali is upheld wherever Hinduism is present. Roughly translated as “the festival of lights,” Diwali is one of the world’s most ancient traditions—a celebration of light’s power over darkness. Whole cities come aglow with fireworks and paper lantern displays during the Diwali festival, gifts are exchanged, and dogs are adorned with flower necklaces. Diwali celebrations can be found around the world, from Melbourne’s spectacular fireworks shows to Trinidad and Tobago, where this happy festival takes on a particular Caribbean flare.
Dia de los Muertos, Mexico
With spiritual roots in Aztec culture, Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is celebrated in Mexico and beyond. It runs from October 31st to November 2nd, with the central focus of honoring the dead. Family and friends decorate graves with personalized altars (known as ofrendas), brightly colored marigolds, sugar skulls, and other offerings (such as the deceased’s favorites foods). While the focus is a celebration of those who’ve died, the many colors and costumes also juxtapose an equally important celebration of life.
While it’s not a colorful street scene, or even a huge festival per se, Denmark’s J-Dag celebration is one of the country’s most awaited days. On the first Friday of November (at 8:59 p.m., to be exact) a horse-drawn carriage leaves the Tuborg Brewery with a limited-edition Christmas beer (Julbryg) to deliver to bars across Copenhagen. The special brew was launched in 1981 and is only available for six weeks a year—its arrival marks the end of fall and the beginning of the holiday season. Copenhageners flock to city squares and bars to sip some beer that’s just a touch stronger than all of the others on the shelf.