Fool Me Once
As spring arrives, and the weather starts to get warmer, another seasonal tradition is on the way–April Fools’ Day. Celebrated on the 1st April in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and Brazil, there have been some extremely funny and notorious practical jokes on the day when it is tradition for people to play pranks on each other. Part of the beauty of travelling is that countries and cultures across the world are often celebrating a festival or marking a tradition. Every day is a holiday and this is a great time to see some truly entertaining April festivals.
Long Live the King
One of the most impressive April festivals in the world, the Netherlands will celebrate King’s Day on April 27. The celebrations were first held in 1885 as Queen’s Day for Queen Wilhelmina and have continued ever since with the name of the day changing to King’s Day after King Willem-Alexander was inaugurated. The parties in Amsterdam are the most exciting, with thousands of people flocking to the city on this day or the night before (King’s Night) when the celebrations begin with huge parties at the bars and clubs. On the day itself, Amsterdam is covered in a sea of orange as a show of pride for the Dutch Royal family, the House of Orange-Nassau. There is also a huge free second-hand market held across the city to mark the Dutch people’s love for trading and haggling with a fun, joyful atmosphere, hundreds of food stands and plenty of beer available on tap. This is one of the world’s biggest and most exciting street parties, with crowds singing traditional Dutch songs, and there are live concerts throughout the city from the late morning until the sun goes down. There are also many improvised street parties as well as boat parties along the canal aboard brightly decorated liners. Many people choose to have a boogie on the bridges and wave to the boats as they go by. The day is great for all the family, with face painting, games and sports for the kids.
Dancing with the Devil
Photo credits: Tombone65
In Germany, April festivals arrive at the end of the month, where Witches’ Night or Walpurgis is celebrated on April 30–exactly six months before Halloween. This festival has pagan roots, and rather spooky legend says that witches would meet on the last night of April and fly their broomsticks to the highest point of the Harz Mountains, called ‘The Brocken.’ It was here that they would dance with the devil in a location that is rumoured to be haunted to this day. This night marks two rather contrasting occasions–the anniversary of the founding of the Church of Satan and the arrival of spring. The name Walpurgis comes from an 8th century saint, as this festival is also meant to acknowledge Christianity’s fight against the dark forces of paganism. There are varied celebrations of the festival in many European countries but in Germany, these mainly revolve around local people dressing up as witches, lighting huge bonfires and dancing around them. In southern Germany, many younger people treat this as their own April Fools’ Day and play pranks on the neighbours.
Not all April festivals involve such raucous celebrations. April also marks Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Spain and Portugal. Held during the last week of Lent, this Catholic celebration marks the final period in the life of Jesus Christ, including his visit to Jerusalem, the Last Supper and the Crucifixion. Holy Week traditions vary considerably across the Spanish regions, with some festivities taking a more sombre note than others. However, all of the regions see brotherhoods and fraternities hold processions with many participants wearing traditional nazareno–penitential robes including a hood with a conical tip that masks the face of the wearer. These nazarenos will traditionally carry candles or wooden crosses and may often walk barefoot as a sign of penance. Some brotherhoods will also carry elaborate floats adorned with statues of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other figures from the Passion of the Christ story. Some of these pieces have remained part of the brotherhood for centuries with many designed by famous Spanish artists. These processions are accompanied by marching bands and take on a celebratory yet serious mood. Celebrations in the Andalusia region are typically more glamorous and elaborate while those in Salamanca are some of the oldest and most well-known in Spain, attracting people from miles around to the fiesta.
Wet Wet Wet
Photo credit: Anthony Bouch
Over in Thailand, April marks the New Year with the Songkran Festival from the 13-15 of the month. It is considered one of the most important holidays in Thailand with celebrations also taking place in the neighbouring countries of Vietnam and Laos. Songrkan–coming from the Sanskrit and meaning ‘to move or to change’–takes place over three consecutive days and is marked by a cleansing for the new year which has developed to take the form of a huge water fight across the country. Pouring water over one another symbolises washing away the negatives and struggles of the previous year and starting over for the new one. It is also a very entertaining way to welcome the New Year! Other traditional rituals include the cleaning of the house and removing rubbish in order to have a clean and fresh start and good luck in the new year. The festival is a very spiritual one, and more religious participants will wash their Buddha images in fragrant water, offer prayers and food to the monks and pay a visit to the monastery. And again, just like April Fools’ Day, there are some people who play pranks on this day (in addition to pouring water over their friends).