Article by Sabrina Aubut originally published in one edition of the Atmosphere magazine. Read the latest edition here.
Only in Europe can you find so many different cultures in such a small territory. This human wealth gives rise to celebrations that combine ancient traditions, national pride and a love of beauty. Here are a few European festivals and celebrations worth attending!
The Netherlands – Koningsdag
Koningsdag means King’s Day, although the holiday was called Queen’s Day up until last year. Queen Beatrix abdicated on April 30, 2013, so King’s Day was celebrated for the first time on April 27, 2014 in honour of her son Wilhelm-Alexander’s birthday. During King’s Day, boats filled with people wearing orange clothing and makeup (in honour of the royal family, descendants of the House of Orange-Nassau) cruise along the canals. The elaborate celebration launches on King’s Night, with a festive atmosphere in several squares taken over by concerts and parades. Despite the long night, everyone wakes up early the following morning to enjoy Amsterdam’s one-day transformation into a huge flea market, as the streets bustle with artists and musicians. Tastings of oranjebitter, an orange juniper liqueur specially prepared for the occasion, are offered. Wait until you see what they have in store for this year!
Portugal – Festa de Santo António
Entire pigs roasting on spits and sardine barbecues every few metres provide the fuel for the party! On this festive day, according to tradition, 16 couples will wed and parade in antique cars, as basil bouquets are sold to couples on the street for good luck. Then, floats parade on the Avenida da Liberdade, kicking off the all-night party! Every neighbourhood sizzles with infectious enthusiasm in a noisy competition of fireworks, lively music and improvised dancing. A jury decides which one has put on the best, most extravagant show, and then the party goes on into the wee hours. Fortunately, the next day is a holiday for everyone!
Spain – Fiesta de San Juan
If you want to experience Spanish frenzy at its best, you need to take part in this incredible festival. Combining Catholic and pagan traditions, it is celebrated mainly in Catalonia and in the province of Valencia, although the biggest party is held in Alicante. In May a festival queen is chosen and on June 19, the streets begin to resonate with the sounds of firecrackers, fireworks and bullfights. Every night until the 24th, between 11:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., locals eagerly don traditional costumes and join the parties held all over the city. On the final night, the downtown is given over to huge bonfires, where leaping flames engulf gigantic characters made of paper-mâché.
France – Fêtes de Bayonne
Inspired by the festival in Pamplona, Spain, this large Basque celebration spans five days and hosts concerts, pelota games, cow races, a procession of Bayonne giants, and a parade of lighted floats in an over-the-top atmosphere! Everyone, right down to the visitors to the city, wears the traditional red scarf and white sweater with impressive consistency. As in a carnival, everyone parties together without judgement.
Germany – Rhein in Flammen
May – September
During this festival, Germany’s largest river goes up in flames–or at least it looks that way. Thousands of Bengal flares and fireworks illuminate this romantic tributary. The fortresses, castles and ruins of Bonn, Bingen-Rüdesheimer, Spay-Koblenz, St. Goar and Oberwesel glow throughout the night. Gliding over the water to their next destination at dusk, a fleet of over 60 decorated and illuminated boats take part in this awe-inspiring display. Settle in with a glass of wine on the riverbank or at the foot of a monument, admire the colour show and the accompanying music, and let the surreal, majestic atmosphere wash over you.