Around the World

text Fiona Clarke and Michael Horne


From the grand to the obscure, many countries celebrate the fall season. Across cultures and continents, the festivities often include themes of light, color and food. The nature of many of these festivals is rooted in the ancient world, when the harvest was of central importance. 

Americans head to the pumpkin patch for hayrides, Londoners set off fireworks on Guy Fawkes Day—a night of extravagance that goes back centuries. Festivals of light like Hinduism’s Diwali and Thailand’s Yi Peng draw large crowds of revelers who celebrate the triumph of good over evil. And elsewhere, smaller scale festivities take place honoring local crops such as the North African date.

Whether it be a feast that’s too large to contain or a city whose streets are overtaken by costumed revelers, autumn is traditionally a time to throw one last party before the chill of winter arrives. Now here’s a look at nine of the world’s best fall festivals.


You’ve heard it before: “Remember remember the fifth of November.” Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire Night, this British festival recalls the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when King James I escaped a planned assassination attempt by Guy Fawkes and other English Catholics. Today Fawkes’ effigy is burned and grand fireworks displays are set off over the Tower Bridge. Many of the violent aspects of Guy Fawkes Day have since been discarded and replaced by parades of costumed people bearing torches and marching through the streets of London and other cities throughout Britain.


Loi Krathong means “to float a basket” and in Thailand, along with parts of Laos, this festival involves sending decorated baskets down river as well as decorating the home with candles. But the most vibrant part of this southeast Asian celebration is the Yi Peng Festival, or the releasing of paper lanterns into the night sky. All at once, the night sky is illuminated by floating lights. In large cities like Bangkok, it’s impossible to miss. Simply head to the water and you’ll be surrounded by light.


No story about fall festivals is complete without mention of Halloween. New York’s Greenwich Village Halloween Parade began in 1974 with Ralph Lee, a local puppeteer, who focused on nontraditional outlets for his work. Every year anything goes, where ornate masks and towering costume displays proceed in what is America’s only nighttime parade and the largest puppeteering event. And while the commonplace garb of witches and ghouls is easily found, there’s always something of the obscure and unexplainable to be seen.


On the third weekend of October, the city of Bacolod in the Philippines hosts the MassKara Festival, a carnival-style celebration that fills the streets. Rooted in times of crisis, the festival began in 1980 when a major boat accident killed hundreds of locals. The city’s artists and community leaders decided to throw a “festival of smiles” to counteract the hardship. Today it remains with a parade of costumed dancers, many bearing masks that features large happy grins on their faces.


Each year in October in Albuquerque, New Mexico hundreds of hot-air balloons are sent into the sky. The fiesta, as it’s come to be known, lasts nine days and draws hot-air balloon professionals and onlookers alike. It all started in 1972 as a celebration of a local radio station’s 50th birthday. Today, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta has become a massive gathering of gigantic colors over the desert landscape. It remains the world’s largest hot-air balloon festival.


When the full moon arrives between September and October, the Chinese and Vietnamese celebrate the Mid-Autumn Festival. Also known as the Moon Festival, they give thanks and pray. Cities come alive with grand lantern displays, which are often sent floating down rivers. The festival’s origins are inspired by the moon, which was worshipped in ancient China as a source of rejuvenation. Revelers look forward to sweets like mooncakes, pastries typically filled with lotus bean paste. In major cities like Hong Kong, the festival is expanded to include the Tai Hang Fire Dragon Dance, a ritual believed to ward off bad luck.


From India to Guyana to Fiji, the importance of Diwali is upheld wherever Hinduism is present. Roughly translated as “the festival of lights,” Diwali is one of the world’s most ancient traditions, a celebration of light’s power over darkness. Whole cities come aglow with fireworks and paper lantern displays, gifts are exchanged and dogs are adorned with flower necklaces. Diwali celebrations can be found around the world, from Melbourne’s spectacular fireworks shows to Trinidad and Tobago, where this festival takes on a Caribbean flare.


With spiritual roots in Aztec culture, Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is celebrated in Mexico and beyond. It runs from October 31 through November 2, with the purpose of honoring the dead. Family and friends decorate graves with personalized altars known as “ofrendas,” brightly colored marigold flowers, sugar skulls and other offerings including the deceased’s favorites foods. While the focus is a celebration of those who’ve died, the many colors and costumes also juxtapose an equally important celebration of life.


While it’s not a colorful street scene nor a huge festival, Denmark’s J-Dag celebration is one of the country’s most anticipated days. On the first Friday of November, exactly at 8:59 p.m., a horse-drawn carriage leaves the Tuborg Brewery with a limited-edition Christmas beer or “Julbryg,” to deliver to bars across Copenhagen. The special brew was launched in 1981 and is only available for a six-week period every year, marking the end of fall and the beginning of the holiday season. Copenhageners flock to city squares and bars to sip some beer that’s just a touch stronger than all of the others on the shelf.