The World's Wildest Festivals

Even the most ardent partier will meet their match at these festivals

Everyone around the world likes a good party, but just how broad is your knowledge of the world's festivals? You probably know about Mardi Gras, for example, and at least one of the corresponding "Carnival" celebrations in other countries, but how many festivals can you name beyond that?

Whatever the answer to this question may be, chances are you won't be able to name all the festivals on the list you find below. The good news, of course, is that even if you can't make it to any of them in person, you can add them to your talking points before you hit up your next cocktail party.

  • 01 of 07

    India's Holi Festival

    Holi Festival in India
    Nardendar9 via Wikimedia Commons

    Even if you're not a fitness-minded person, you've probably heard of The Color Run, a nationally-syndicated race that differentiates itself from others primarily because of the colored powder runners cover themselves in. An Indian festival known as Holi is not only the likely inspiration for the people who started this run, but puts The Color Run—as a collective entity—to the same.

    Over several days each March, Hindu Indians (which make up most of the country's population) celebrate the arrival of spring and the departure of winter by hurling brightly-colored powder into the air—and, by way of gravity, down onto themselves. 

    One of the most interesting facts about Holi is that it allows (and in fact encourages) behavior far outside of India's typically conservative social norms, particularly for women.

  • 02 of 07

    Songkran in Thailand

    James Antrobus via Wikimedia Commons

    Although many Thais celebrate the Western New Year that occurs every January 1, many things about Thailand's own New Year, the Songkran festival, are different.

    First, Thailand uses the Buddhist calendar, which is several hundred years ahead of the Western one—when Thais ring in their next new year this coming April (that's the second difference, FYI), it will be the year 2560. 

    Finally, although Northern Hemisphere dwellers generally associate New Year's with cold weather and the last, lingering effect of holiday hangover, Thai New Year is generally scorching hot, which is part of why the amount of water-fire exchanged during Songkran is so welcome.

    The water-fight atmosphere of Songkran not only serves a purifying purpose from a Buddhist perspective, but alleviates the heat that, if we're honest, is probably all that's keeping you from booking an April flight to Bangkok in the first place.

  • 03 of 07

    Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval

    Rio de Janeiro Carnaval
    Alan Betensley via Wikimedia Commons

    Looking for evidence that you shouldn't chalk the fact that Olympic attendance was so low down to Brazil? Look no further than the country's annual Carnaval celebration, which is the world's largest and most famous.

    In 2016, nearly one million people, foreigners and Brazilians alike, converged on the country's Cidade Maravilhosa for a celebration that, in 2017 especially, is sure to wipe away any gloom remaining from the controversial Olympic games. And, since Carnaval is mostly a human celebration rather than one that relies on architecture or infrastructure, almost nothing can prevent it from taking place as planned.

  • 04 of 07

    Chinese New Year

    Chinese Spring Festival 2013
    Andre Vogelaere/Getty Images

    When Westerners think of Chinese New Year, they imagine happy people in Chinatowns in London and New York and San Francisco dancing around beneath a huge, paper dragon. When Chinese people in China think of Chinese New Year, also known as the "Spring Festival," they think of traffic. And airport delays. And railway station gridlock.

    To be sure, Chinese New Year is the largest migration of humans in history, with more than 1.3 billion people in the Middle Kingdom making the journey to their hometowns, most often by rail. It's not uncommon for Beijing- and Shanghai-bound traffic jams to last for several days, to say nothing of how long past schedule flights and trains arrive.

    Continue to 5 of 7 below.
  • 05 of 07

    Burning Man in Nevada

    Burning Man
    Huntster via Wikmedia Commons

    Burning Man has become somewhat controversial since it began in 1986. Does it really live up to its motto "leave no trace"? Is it an inclusive environment, or one that caters mostly to white bros and their white girlfriends? Is it worth driving across the country to Black Rock City, NV, or better left for local West coasters?

    One thing about Burning Man that's not in dispute is its popularity—this is not always to the delight of organizers. In fact, in 2011, they attempted (unsuccessfully) to cap attendance at 50,000. Nearly 50% more people than that came in 2016 and the number is likely to keep growing in the future.

  • 06 of 07

    Spain's Running of the Bulls

    Running of the Bulls
    Btodag via Wikimedia Commons

    You've probably heard (or at least imagined) that the Running of the Bulls is dangerous. But in more than a century of annual celebrations, the San Fermin Festival (as Running of the Bulls is also known) has taken only 16 lives, which is quite remarkable when you consider that as many as 1,000,000 people descend on Pamplona each year.

    Now, whether Running of the Bulls is safe or even good for its bovine participants is very much in question, although that's a topic for another article.

  • 07 of 07

    Meskal: Ethiopia's Largest Religious Festival

    Meskal Ethiopia
    Anne Saurat via Wikimedia Commons

    Although some of the festivals on this list have religious origins, few of them manifest themselves in conspicuously religious ways. Ethiopia's Meskal Festival is a big outlier in this respect, as you'll see if you attend during the two days it occurs every September, and commemorates the discovery of the so-called "True Cross" by Roman Empress Helena in the Fourth Century A.D.

    If you do happen to travel to Ethiopia during Meskal, the most Instagram-worthy displays of splendor occur in Lalibela, which is home to a huge, cross-shaped church hewn into rock, or perhaps Bahir Dar, where a variety of island monasteries on the shores of Lake Tana attract pilgrims from around the country.