Global Summer Festivals: Buddha’s Tooth, Dromedaries, Elvis, Tomatoes

I love summer festivals around the world. Here’s a sampling of my favorites.

Elvis week is usually held in Memphis in mid-August, and includes movies, special performances, and the ultimate Elvis Tribute Artists contest to crown the best Elvis impersonator: a week of scheduled events to mark the anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley.

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In New Brunswick, Canada, on the Atlantic coast, a festival celebrating the Acadian survival offers concerts, the blessing of the local fishing fleet, decorating the town, and dozens of other events.

On August 15 at 6 pm, people parade up and down the main street, making as much noise as possible for a full hour: drums and horns, pots and pans and noisemakers of all sorts. People shout and sing and sport the colors of the Canadian flag, denoting “We are still here!” I attended this noisy celebration a few years ago, and suggest if you do, wear earplugs.

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The International Highline Meeting Festival is one of the most terrifying and daring anywhere — and don’t try this if you’re a restless sleeper. Fearless folks are suspended above the Italian Alps every September— in just a hammock. They call themselves “slackers,” and spend their days and nights defying death, suspended hundreds of feet above the Italian Dolomites.

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Festa dos Tabuleiros in Tomar, Portugal is the festival of the trays, and takes place every four years. The next one is in July 2023.

The girls who carry the trays wear long white dresses with a colored sash and are held by boys who also wear a formal costume. The tray headdress, which must be the same height as the girl, is made up of 30 loaves of bread, specially shaped and threaded on five or six canes which are tied to a wicker basket. At the top there’s a crown completed by paper flowers, greenery. The blessing of the trays, the street decorations, the quilts in the windows and the throwing of flowers over the procession of the trays, carried on the heads of hundreds of young girls is an unforgettable sight.

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In Kenya, a two-day, late-August festival celebrates dromedaries, the camels with double humps. It attracts international competitors participating in the annual race put on by the Samburu tribe. (I once watched a camel race in Abu Dhabi with one- humped beasts. My favorite memory is of the fake jockeys bobbing on the camel’s hump. There also were races pitting camels against people. The camels won.)

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The annual 15-day festival in Kandy, Sri Lanka, venerating Buddha’s tooth symbolizes the introduction of Buddhism to this small island nation nearly 2000 years ago. Every night there’s a parade of elephants accompanied by performers and musicians. The festivities culminate with a procession of over 1000 performers and 100 elephants. The larger elephants have their tusks capped in gold and draped with silk tassels, and some even wear ankle bracelets. Animal rights activists won’t like this, but it is a sight to behold.

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The most famous food fight in the world is at the La Tomatina Festival in Spain in late August. Every year approximately 40,000 tomato enthusiasts descend on the tiny town to pelt each other. On the day of Tomatina, a slice of ham is hung on the top of a greasy pole in the town square. The goal is to climb and retrieve the ham with a crowd chanting and singing and encouraging, while being showered by water hoses.

When the ham is dropped from the pole, a loud signal goes off, trucks loaded with tomatoes enter, and then — chaos. Once the fight ends, firefighters wash the streets and people down with hoses. Surprisingly enough, the village streets look quite clean with the acidity of the tomato acting as a disinfectant.

There have been various recreations of the festival in Nevada, Chicago, Costa Rica and Colombia, but the original is the biggest and most tomato-filled of all.

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(To hear about even more summer festivals, such as the belly-button festival in Japan, listen to Episode 19 of my award-winning travel podcast Places I Remember with Lea Lane, on Apple, Spotify, my website, or wherever you listen to podcasts.)

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