Grape Harvest Festival
March 7 – 11, Mendoza, Argentina
Although its origins are religious in nature, stretching back to the 17th century, the Grape Harvest Festival (Fiesta Nacional de la Vendimia) officially started in 1936 when engineer Frank Romero Day, the then Minister of Industry and Public Works in Mendoza, signed a decree that the grape harvest would become a social event as part of the national agenda. Nowadays, it’s Argentina’s biggest wine party, bringing together everyone from the field workers to the wine vineyard owners and the rest of the wine-loving world.
Recently, the government of Argentina has extended the event to ten days, but the main attractions begin with the Queens White Way (Vía Blanca de las Reinas) parade of the 18 queens from the provinces.
The Central Act, the grand finale, is typically a large-scale, ticketed theatrical production held at the Fray Romero Day amphi-theatre. This dazzling spectacle features more than a thousand costumed performers dancing to live music. Finally, the queen of the harvest is crowned with a tiara comprised of grape leaves and vines. The evening ends in an explosion of fireworks.
The wine is everywhere. There is public wine-tasting during the events. Many restaurants offer special wine pairing menus and promotional prices. (It’s also the only time that McDonald’s in Argentina will serve wine.)
March 7 – 16, Austin, Texas, USA
What started as a weekend music festival now sprawls across 10 days, encompassing music, technology and film; this is South by Southwest (SXSW). While SXSW does not favor the unprepared, it does reward the spontaneous. Decide who on the schedule you want to see, but don’t be too attached to your plans — you never know when an invitation to an amazing showcase or surprise concert will come your way.
SWSX was originally conceived as an independent music showcase, where up-and-coming bands would try to woo prospective labels (the Southwest’s answer to New York’s New Music Seminar). The first was developed in 1987 by Roland Swenson, Louis Black and Nick Barbaro (a local writer, an editor and a publisher, respectively), who came up with the name as a play on Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest. They expected a couple hundred people; nearly a thousand showed up.
In the last decade or so, the festival has expanded to include film and technology. Six days of the festival are still devoted to music, though SXSW is no longer merely a showcase for new bands; super stars Justin Timberlake and Usher performed in 2013. Although these high-profile performances tend to steal the spotlight, SXSW is still a great place for young, hungry performers to make an impression. In past years, artists including John Mayer and James Blunt were “discovered” by label reps at SXSW performances.
March 17, India
If you happen to be in India, Nepal or Sri Lanka during the last lunar cycle of the winter, called Phalguna (usually in February or March), you just might get caught in a rainbow battlefield. Throngs of celebrants fling every imaginable type of brightly coloured dye in the form of powder, liquid and water balloons at each other in an all-out war. It’s a wildly immersive and participatory festival, as everyone gets involved, from young to old. Holi is celebrated all over the region from intimate celebrations at home to enormous street parties exploding with colour.
This festival helps locals say goodbye to winter and welcome to spring, the season of love (and colour). It’s celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and happy travellers alike.
St. Patrick’s Day
March 17, Dublin, Ireland
March 17th marks the day in circa 457 AD when Saint Patrick died and took his story to the grave. Since, the only known details of his life come from two handwritten letters sent by Patrick to himself, the rest propagated through myth. In addition to crediting Saint Patrick with the spreading of Christianity in Ireland, ancient legend holds that he also drove all the snakes out of the entire nation. Old Irish folklore also tells us the Saint would use a three-leafed shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. It is then unmistakable how his Irish legacy remains so strong to this day.
Truly the climax to the four-day carousing spree is the parade held on March 17th, where the million-strong, Guinness-fueled, green-clad revelers resemble a veritable army. The event is as much about participation as it is about spectacle. At 11am, the festivities get underway at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral with the procession officially starting at noon and rolling until completion at the Black Church on Dorset Street. The most prized views are from the O’Connell Street Bridge—an attractive alternative to shelling out 60 Euros for the stadium seats. Afterwards, the celebrators continue onward to Earlsfort Terrace for the Céilí Mór dance party. Traditional Irish dancing spills into the streets and the merriment rallies forward in the thousands of city pubs, only stumbling distance away.
Bali Spirit Festival
March 19 – 23, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
Bali Spirit is a relatively new phenomenon, a festival where one is built-up rather than burnt-out. With health and wellness presenters from around the world (and participants from more than 50 countries), an experience that will engage all six of the senses as the lovely, lush Ubud has done for visitors for years.
There are yoga teachers from more than a dozen countries and yoga is a foundational part of the Bali Spirit experience with a variety of classes offered throughout the day and evening.
Meghan Pappenheim, a Manhattan transplant well-known in Ubud for running a few different restaurants and creating the Yoga Barn, created the festival in 2008 as a means of connecting people to each other, to themselves, and to the vibrant and life-sustaining Balinese bliss.
There are music and art classes, tours of local temples and spiritual sites, nutrition and health workshops, and even a collection of family activities like Balinese dance for kids, circus tricks, and storytelling. The daytime activities occur in the Purnati Center for the Arts. At night, it moves to ARMA (Agung Rai Museum of Art) and guests are serenaded with everything from local gamelan orchestras to well-known world music stars to Balinese puppet shows.
At the daytime Dharma Fair and the Night Market there are a variety of vendors who will teach guests about healthier living. There are healing huts where one can get a cranial sacral treatment, Reiki, Chakra balancing, an Esalen-style massage, Balinese traditional healing, and Tama-Do Sound medicine. And, for the more traditionalists, there are even some tarot card readers and astrologists. Just know that the overall quality of the practitioners is quite high so this is a great place to taste test a few treatments.
The festival provides support to HIV and AIDS awareness, multicultural education, and environmental conservation in Bali.
March 19, Valencia, Spain
This celebration dates back to the Middle Ages when excess winter supplies were torched in an equivalent to a spring cleaning. Today’s rendition takes a more grandiose approach, paying homage to Spain’s history and culture with spectacular displays of pyrotechnics.
Lighting fires has long been a way to kick off the start of spring. Long before lightbulbs, Valencian carpenters and artisans plied their trades under candlelight, using pieces of wood called parots as wick holders. Come spring, when sunlight replaced candlelight, the parots were burned. The pagan ritual merged with the church’s commemoration of Saint Joseph, the patron saint of the carpenters, and thus Las Fallas was born.
Today, effigies are dressed up in costumes: the larger ones are called fallas, the smaller, doll-like ones, ninot. Over time, the ninots grew in both size and detail, as did the cartoonish fallas, which typically depict satirical scenes and current events. Polystyrene replaced the fallas’ paper mâché-covered wooden frames, allowing them structures of up to 30 meters (100 feet). During the grand finale, all works end up in a blaze, except for one to be preserved in the Museo Fallero as a symbol of prosperity.
All throughout Las Fallas, participants dress up in traditional clothing, dance to the beats of neighborhood bands, and offer flowers to the Virgen de los Desamparados, Valencia’s patron saint. Fiestas extend well into the night with live music, frequent explosions, and frenetic dancing. Entertainment options abound with peak time hitting the nightclubs at around 4am or even later.
Las Fallas reaches its apex on the final night. The scene is intense. Under the roaring flames, the artistic creations collapse, and thousands of hours of work, hundreds of thousands of Euros, all go up in smoke. Not missing a beat, the entire city erupts into a giant dance party.