Festivals and “fêtes” mark time with their unchanging rituals. The glue of our civilisations, these collective events, where entire communities lay out their differences and pool their divergences, is what effectively builds our societies, smooths its ups and downs, unites extremes and minimises contradictions. From rite of passage to celebration, reunions and new beginnings, these festive events say something about us, tell our story and trace our lifeline; there is no such thing as a gathering without sharing, nor can it be gratuitous, pointless or futile. A snapshot in time, the moment intensifies our sense of belonging, connects us to ourselves and to others; an opportunity to give what we can, merge our moods, to forget, in a carefree game by which no-one is fooled. All civilisations and every nation are influenced by rituals. There is no such thing as a closed or longstanding humanity without a recurrent, codified ritual with a timing that is accepted and recognised by all. Glee, frenzy, laughter and joy abound with dancing, games and relaxed conversation, all set to the sound of music.
An enchanted interlude, an escape from routine. Free from convention, festivals lead us through a whirlwind of sights and sounds, lulled into a gentle tumult. Seized by a flurry of images, conjuring up the most outlandish creations, where suddenly anything is possible. Casting aside personalities and opinions, sweeping with it in the same whirlwind a handful of individuals under the same trance, eager for escape, festivals are permissive farces.
Like the Holi Day in India, a Hindu festival that marks the end of winter. Festivals essentially celebrate the passing of time of and the rhythm of the seasons; like the sacred nature of springtime, honoured by the cherry blossoms in Japan or the Battle of Flowers in Cordoba. Summer is the season that lends itself most to the festival spirit, where the light, longer days, sunshine and holidays all make for a more carefree spirit. In Bilbao, Semana Grande Festival is held in the third week of August, with concerts, theatre, live performances in the streets, fireworks and bullfights.
The San Fermín Festival in Pamplona in early July brims with popular jubilation and is punctuated with the running of the bulls that take over the streets of this Spanish city. Egalitarian, national holidays are pagan communions. All nations stand under the one flag, in just the same way as New Year’s Day. Tet in Vietnam, Chinese or Thai New Year, are all celebrated with a huge water fight in a pagan communion known as Songkran.
Carnivals are undoubtedly the most sophisticated and codified of all festivals. Dance schools in Rio face a formidable challenge, where the stakes are incredibly high in terms of image and belonging. France’s Dunkirk Carnival celebrates an ambiguous world, where anything is possible: roles and values are turned on their heads, men flaunting costumes and make-up; a childlike playground maybe, but also a true aspiration to be « something else » and express freedom of choice. An ode to elsewhere and an aspiration to change the universe, that is so wonderfully embodied in the hallmark masks at the Venice Carnival.
Others seek the ultimate thrill at the annual utopian Burning Man Festival in August in the Nevada Desert. Soon though, the masks fall, the music goes quiet and the rigours of time take hold once again. Farewell to streamers, ribbons, song and dance. The time of reason beckons… until the next event!