Festivals - January to March
Projects highlighted in yellow are featured in Paola's book Celebrating Women.
BRAZIL. Lavagem do Nosso Senhor do Bonfim. Daughters of the Saints wear white, carry vases of holy water and flowers on their heads, march for 7 miles singing and dancing, then wash the steps of the church of the Lord of Bonfim. (Salvador, Bahia)
GREECE. Gynaecocratia. Celebrating female dominion, women congregate in cafes while men perform the household tasks. (Monoklissia; North Petra; Strimi; Xilagani; Nea Kassani; Aspro)
GREECE. Midwife’s Day. Village women bring food to the midwife’s house for a noon feast at a table set by her daughters and granddaughters. The only man who can attend is a bagpiper who provides music for their singing and dancing, but he must cover his eyes and ears. This day, men don’t talk; women make the decisions and women always win games played with men. (Varna Region)
INDIA. Teppam (Float) Festival. At a many-tiered temple in the middle of a reservoir, on the night of full moon, fantastically dressed and jeweled images of the goddess Meenakshi and her consort are floated on rafts decorated with flowers and hundreds of oil lamps. Crowd on shore chants hymns. (Mariamman Teppakkulam Tank Reservoir, Madurai, Tamil Nadu).
INDIA. Vasanta Panchami. Honors Saraswati, Goddess of learning, arts, dance and music. Worshiped in homes; processions of her images, which are immersed at the finale (in Bengal). People wear yellow clothes and eat yellow food (North).
NEPAL. Shree Panchami. The Goddess of Learning, Saraswati, is worshipped. Offerings include the tools of education: pens and ink. Rice is also offered, since it is believed that eating seven grains of rice will increase wisdom. At school, young children are first taught the alphabet on this day. (Swayambhunath shrine, Kathmandu Valley).
PHILIPPINES. Sinulog Festival. Elderly women perform the Sinulog dance daily, inspired by the river‘s current. Brilliant costumes, marches, feasts, horse fights, dances to celebrate the Christianization of their community. (Cebu City; Kabankalan, Island of Negros).
SPAIN. La Tamborrada, In 1720, young girls stopped to accompany a singing baker by drumming on the water barrels he was filling at a fountain. That impromptu jam session evolved into a festival with 24-hour-long drum parades; each drum corps represents a different gastronomic society. (San Sebastian)
POLAND. Mother of God of the Blessed Thunder Candle (Matka Boża Gromniczna.) Candles decorated with ribbons and liturgical symbols are brought to the priest for blessings, then burned at home until sunrise the next day.
AUSTRIA. Rudolfina Redoute. At this traditional, formal ball held in the Hofburg Palace, single women wear masks and have their choice of dance partners until midnight. (Vienna)
BRAZIL. Festa de Yemanja (Goddess of the Ocean). Hundreds of people in white bring gifts for the goddess, which will be set forth on rafts: jewelry, perfume, flowers, soap, mirrors, champagne. Candomblé ceremony. Priestesses dance, chant. Fireworks. (Rio Vermelho Beach, Bahia) (Also, New Years Eve, Rio; August 15, Fortaleza)
ENGLAND. Olney Pancake Race. Local women wearing aprons dash 415 yards while flipping the pancakes they carry in skillets. The festival began in 1445 on the day before Lent (pancakes were a final sweet indulgence) so winners get their prizes at the parish church. Olney competes for best race time with Liberal, Kansas, USA, a pancake-race challenger. (Olney, North Buckinghamshire, England).
GERMANY. Weiberfastnach (Women’s Carnival). In the thirteenth century, Cologne’s market women protested that men had all the fun during Karneval. They stormed Town Hall, and the Lord Mayor turned over his keys in submission. Ever since, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday belongs to women who process in costume through the streets, make all the decisions, and poke fun at the opposite sex .(Cologne)
IRELAND. Wives Feast. Women are honored as the preservers of home and community. Their families prepare dinner and give gifts. (Also Northern England)
MALAYSIA. Chap Goh Meh. Chinese maidens and spinsters throw mandarin oranges into the sea, signaling to the 30,000 observers that they are available for marriage. Boys compete to collect the most oranges in their boats. (Esplanade, Penang)
PERU. Festividad de Virgen of Candelaria. Four thousand Amayra and Quechua dancers compete for two weeks in celebration of the Virgen (aka Pacha Mama) said to be the only virgin who appeared to the Indians. (Puno)
SPAIN. Feast of St. Agatha. Women rule the town this day, and ceremoniously burn a stuffed figure representing a man. This may be symbolic retribution for the past torture reportedly done to Agatha, a beautiful Sicilian virgin whose breasts were cut off because she spurned a Roman senator. (Zamarramala)
SPAIN. Fiesta del Gallo. Young women in white take a live rooster to the town’s mayor and ask for permission to kill it. They bury it alive with its head showing, or beat it with a wooden sword while its legs are tied to a pole. (Northern towns.)
SPAIN. Santa Agueda Festival. Governor’s wife dresses in sumptuous C12 gowns and leads the procession, followed by married women dressed in farm clothes. After a banquet in which the priest is the only man present, the celebration ends with the ancient Wheel Dance. (Zamarramala; Segovia)
THAILAND. Chao Mae Lim Ko Niao Fair. Locals pay homage to Chao Mae Lim Ko Nieo, a goddess believed to possess a formidable capacity for magic. The region’s wizards descent on Pattani’s shrine for seven days of wild stunts. (Leng Chu Kiang Shrine, Amphoe Muang, Pattani)
BULGARIA. Baba Marta (Grandmother March). Peasant women embark on spring cleaning and give friends martenitsa, red-and-white wool threads with tassels that they wear until they see the first migrating stork—or the first budding bush (in which case, they hang the martenitsa on its branches).
CHINA. Noroz (Nero) Festival. On horseback, Kazak girls chase boys who ride away as fast as they can. If a girl catches a boy, she can whip him (he is not allowed to fight back) but if she loves him, she will only wave her whip in the air. (Xinjiang)
INDIA. Chithirai Festival. Ten day celebration. About 100,000 people attend the re-enactment of Goddess Meenakshi’s wedding to Sundereswara (incarnation of Shiva). Meenakshi, a King’s daughter, was born with three breasts, one of which was promised to disappear when she met the right man to marry. (Meenakshi Temple, Madurai, Tamil Nadu)
INDIA. Gangaur. Festival dedicated to Goddess Gauri (Parvati) begins during the Holi Festival. Young girls pray for men to marry; married women pray for their husband’s long lives. Women gather flowers, then carry them on their heads in brass water pitchers while chanting hymns to the Goddess. The 18 days culminate in the arrival of Lord Shiva to escort his bride home; there are grand processions with elephants, camels, horses, dancers, and drummers. (Mandawa Temple, Jhunjhunu District, Rajasthan; also Bikaner; Jodhpur; Nathdwara; Jaipur; Jaisalmer.)
INDIA. Holi. The villainess is the evil sister. Long ago, a child was sent by the Gods to deliver the land from its demonic king. The king’s sister (who claimed to be immune to fire) offered to hold the boy in her lap and sit in a bonfire that would kill him but not her. But the sister was torched and the child, who was devoted to God Vishnu, survived. Bonfires and offerings are a big part of this seven-day festival. Colored powders are thrown on friends, relatives and strangers. Color is mixed with water and dumped from balconies. Parades, feasts, dancing and fireworks. At the Lathmar Holi in Barsana (near Mathura, home of Radha, Krishna’s consort), women dare the men of Nandgaon (home of Krishna) to douse them with color.
INDIA. Karaga Festival. A clay pot is balanced on a devotee’s head; it embodies Shakti, the mother goddess, and must not be dropped during the 12-mile procession; if it falls, colleagues are sworn to stab the carrier to death. This festival also features stacking many clay pots on heads and limbs of devotees to test strength of character. (Sampangi Reservoir, Bangalore)
INDIA. Mewar Festival. To honor Parvati and welcome spring, a procession of women carry images of the Goddess by boat from the Lake Palace hotel to the Ganguar Ghat on Lake Pichola. There are songs, dancing, devotional music and fireworks. (Udaipur, Rajasthan)
JAPAN. Girls Festival/Hina Matsuri. Little girls wear kimonos and eat rice cakes at parties, surrounded by their families’ festival doll collections that are displayed for the occasion to bring health to their daughters. (Kyoto; Okinawa)
SPAIN. Las Fallas. A procession of 150,000 women wearing baroque costumes and bringing flowers to a statue of the Virgin punctuates this week-long festival, which ends with the burning of over 350 multi-colored structures, some 75 feet tall, that combine surrealism, political satire and Disney. (Valencia)
SRI LANKA. Sri Pada Vandana (Pilgrimage to Adam’s Peak). A woman who successfully maneuvers to the top of Adam’s Peak is said to be born a man in her next life. For 1,000 years devotees have bravely climbed the mountain at night guided by the moon and lanterns. At the top one is supposed to see a footprint of Adam or Buddha or Lord Shiva (Dalhousie)
SWEDEN. Easter Eve. Little girls dress up as Easter hags, wearing their mother’s aprons, kerchiefs and hand-drawn freckles. They visit neighbors and ask for candy. This practice springs from people’s ancient belief that on Maundy Thursday, witches flew on broomsticks to meet with Satan and returned on the night before Easter.
THAILAND. Thao Suranari Festival. The City of Brave Women was saved by its women in 1826, when it was attacked by Laotian invaders. Leader Ya Mo is celebrated with ten days of competitions: contests give prizes for beauty, muscles, shooting, fruit and vegetables, healthy babies. There are fireworks, dance performances, Buddhist and Hindu ceremonies. (Nakhon Ratchasima)
VIETNAM. Binh Da Festival. Au Co is said to have miraculously given birth to 100 sons after a gestation period of 3 years and ten days, providing the original population of the Ha Son Binh region. This fifteenth-century temple-festival pays homage to Au Co, her husband, and Buddha. Teenaged girls carry platters of fruit and flowers through the narrow streets. Traditional music. (Au Co Mother Saint Temple, Hien Luon village, Thao River District, Phu Tho province, Huong Tich mountain range)
VIETNAM. Moc Duc. Trieu Thi Trinh was 19 when she declared, “I want to ride over strong wind, sail over strong waves, hunt fierce fish off the East Sea coast, chase the Ngo invaders out of the country, regain independence, shatter slavery, but will never give in to becoming a concubine.” In 248 AD, she led an uprising against the Ngo and killed the Chinese governor. The temple festival that commemorates this heroine includes a procession, battle re-enactment, luncheon of cold dishes in remembrance of the rations her solders ate, and a (hot) victory dinner. (Ba Trieu Temple, Quan Yen district, Cuu Tran prefecture)
WORLDWIDE. International Women’s Day. March 8, a date designated by the United Nations, whose charter was the first international agreement to proclaim gender equality as a fundamental human right. The day is rooted in the centuries-old struggle of women to participate in society on an equal footing with men. The first international Women’s Day took place in 1911 in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland, but today it is celebrated all over the world.
YEMEN. Purim. This holiday celebrates the biblical story of Esther, who was taken into the court of a Persian king and found herself in a position to save her people. Jews paint eggs, send them to friends, and consume them at the Purim meal.