Monday, April 15, 2013

Social Spectacles
                It is in human nature that we crave social interaction and through this desire we have created social gatherings to celebrate and honor one thing or another. Beyond the social aspect, festivals are held in order to satisfy spiritual needs. Whether a town puts on a huge spectacle to please the gods or just to pray for a bountiful season, festivals are first and foremost religious in nature. It is pretty amazing to think of how these festivals came to be, like Castell, the human tower festival that was held around 200 years ago as appeasement to the Virgin Mary of the candela to ward away the plague. Recently with the explosion of media and it’s availability, these spectacles have seemed to become more about the pageantry than the religious or spiritual aspect; having to put on a show that the whole world can watch. The people who watch get a taste of that group’s culture. In that sense, it may not be so bad that the focus is moving away from the religious aspect. In the beginning the celebrations didn't get noticed but with media, people want to come from afar just to see these amazing shows of color and massive human convergence.

            Though most festivals have similar religious foundations, each one couldn't be more unique. One of the more obscure festivals is the Catalan Human Castles which takes place in Valls Spain. This tradition consists of teams, each wearing a different colored uniform based on what town in Spain you’re from. The uniforms are made up of white trousers, a black sash, a bandanna  and colored shirt to indicate which team the “casteller” belongs to. This tradition began around 200 years ago through a desire to protect against black
plague. Building the human towers were a way of praying to the town’s patron saint for protection against the ravaging disease. The way that I see it, castles are a symbol of everlasting strength and to build one takes endurance; this is what they sought after in order to best the illness. Not only does this feat satisfy the people’s spiritual goals but it also brings them together in cooperation to achieve something truly astounding. That’s what festivals are really all about, the cohesion of a community and making strong relationships. Communities will go through quite the effort just to make a celebration 'up to par', Dia de los Muertos is one festival that takes a lot of time and resources to prepare.

           Dia de los Muertos or “The day of the Dead” is a Latino celebration of life and death, where a huge amount of effort is put into making everything look perfect. Everyone puts forth the effort to help make crafts and special candy skulls among other traditional foods. One thing you can count on is every family having a shrine or an alter to commemorate those who have died in their family. Offerings are left at these alters because it is believed that the spirits come back and gain the nutrition from the food and drink that is left for them. It was believed that when the food rotted or decayed that it was actually the spirits eating the food. The
families build the shrines to be beautifully colored with lace, crosses, pictures, and skulls to make their loved ones happy. The skulls are an essential part to this holiday because of its relationship with death and also they serve as a way to drive the spirits back to the afterlife. Families will make tomales, decorate candy skulls as well as drinking alcohol throughout the ceremonies to honor the dead. Symbolism also plays a huge part in Day of the Dead and other celebrations; it is what the whole thing is based upon. Papel picado is delicately decorated tissue paper which represents the wind and the frailness of life. Certainly there is a primal aspect to the festival itself, with the masks and skulls, but the idea that the spirits of those past are always with us is comforting and not so rudimentary. Also the migration of the monarch butterfly falls right on the time of the festivities so it is no surprise that the butterflies are believed to be the spirits of the deceased coming back to the world of the living. People who share the same beliefs tend to stick together and when a whole culture shares common ground that brings them that much closer.

          Color is always a recurring theme with any spectacle but the Holi festival in India takes using color to a whole new level. Every year around the end of February people all over India celebrate the coming of spring by throwing colored powder and water balloons at each other. The festival is meant to be extremely fun and lively to illustrate the triumph of “good” over “bad”; this is shown by covering each other with various colored dust, the colors of spring. It is a time for mischief and celebration, and the phrase “happy holi” is thrown around quite often, as well as hugs. Although the festival itself is the same, there are many regional variants. One such variant involves the men singing to the women in an attempt to woo them, returned by the women giving them a good-hearted beating with bamboo sticks. I feel that this spectacle exemplifies tradition and community in its purest form better than any other. Not to say that it is the best festival just the most true to its roots. A huge impact of Holi is the shear amounts of water that is consumed during it. Thousands of people using water balloons and hoses to douse citizens in colored water can really make an impact on the supply of water. When India is in a drought this effect can become a large concern and needs to be addressed accordingly. Holi is meant to be a gathering of fun and happiness but no other spectacle can top the magnitude of Brazil’s Carnival.

              Dubbed the ‘Greatest Party on Earth’ Carnival is held every year 46 days before the start of Lent. The word Carnival comes from carnelevare which literally translates to “removal of meat”. This comes from the period where Catholics would cut meat out of their diets in order to live a more pure life. Followers of the Roman Catholic Church would indulge in a last day of dancing, fun, alcohol, and sex before the beginning of lent, which is a period of abstinence from alcohol and other sins. The most well-known Carnival is that of the city Rio de Janeiro where people throng to the stadium where the parade of lavishly adorned floats and dancers come through. To the people who celebrate
Carnival this is a national holiday and citizens will close shops and flood the streets to enjoy the extravaganza. The type of music heard at Carnival is samba, which is also a type of dance. Various samba schools, which are extremely involved in community service, organize and put on the festival; putting on Carnival is a huge feat even with more than 12 school participating. From all over the world people come to watch the flamboyant display of color and grandeur parade down the streets of Rio and other cities. This festival indulges all of the sinful delights: sex, alcohol, ego and more. It is the perfect last hurrah before giving up all of the fun to Lent. Carnival is all about forgetting your worries and just enjoying life; letting loose and being in the good company of your friends and family, it has everything you need to bring a community together.

           The origins of any festival out there can be traced to religion. Whether it’s to protect you from the plague or to just have the world’s largest party, the underlying reason folks throw festivals is human convergence. There aren’t many things more powerful than bringing a group of people together under one cause. Religion was the driving force for most of these festivals but once you take away religion all you’re left with is a group of people who are now more tightly knit than if they had never come together. Beliefs can change but what these shows of human convergence do for a community, bringing them closer, cannot be taken away.

Works Cited:

Castells. 2011. Photograph. Google Images, Valls. Human Castles. Barcelona Urbany Hostels, 29 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.
"Catalan Human Castles Festival in Valls, Spain." Gourmand Breaks Food Wine Cultural Tours. Gourmand Breaks, 21 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.
Farfán, Karen Castillo. "Day Of The Dead, Decoded: A Joyful Celebration Of Life And Food." NPR. NPR, 1 Nov. 2012. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.
"'The Greatest Party on Earth': Rio Carnival Reaches Its Breathtaking Climax as Thousands of Scantily-clad Samba Dancers Gyrate through the Streets in an Explosion of Music and Colour." Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Ltd., 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.
Raqimova, Rena. "Indian Holi Festival 2013: Colorful Powder, Food & Dancing | Sunnyvale." FunCheapSF, 30 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.
Saurabh, Parijat. "Holi Festival and Its Lineaments in Different Indian Regions." Mytourindia Blog. My Tour India, 22 Mar. 2013. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. <>.