Festivals and Celebrations: Maptia Storytelling Theme 5

By Maptia, Co-founder Team Share

Have you ever experienced the sensory overload of Burning Man or watched cultural barriers disintegrate during Holi’s glorious human rainbow? Have you felt the magical effervescence and communal joy at the Thai Lantern festival, watched a procession during a penis festival in Japan, crashed an Uzbek wedding, or spent Christmas away from home baking in 36 degree heat?

If you concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens… Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.
— Paulo Coelho

Since the earliest days of humanity, festivals and celebrations have brought communities together—fostering traditions and forming an important part of our cultural heritage—yet in recent years we feel more connected to our iPhones and via the internet than each other. As as result the value of opportunities for meaningful, real-world connections with both family and strangers is greater than ever. Some celebrations can feel like stepping into dream-worlds in which cultural norms cease to apply, and for this reason, attending great festivals can feel like turning up the saturation on life.

Without further ado, dive into the rabbit hole and marvel at the twenty-one stories of ephemeral human festivities and merriment from around the world below.

Credit to Maptia Founding Storyteller Phil Gribbon for the stunning photo featured in our theme header this week. You’ll find his story from the festival of Holi below and you can peruse his other beautiful photos over at philgribbon.com.


A close look at the traditions and meaning behind the beautiful lantern release during Thailand’s Yee Ping and Loy Krathong celebrations each November.

As Shannon says on her beautiful blog alittleadrift.com—the world’s too big to just tell one story. If you enjoyed her story as much as we did, be sure to let her know here on Twitter @ShannonRTW.


Zig-zagging along the path, our shadows long and wild in the candlelight, we approached one of the full-size igloos, domed and grand with a welcoming amber light. This was the winter festival of ‘kamakura matsuri’, and like all good traditions, its origins remained shrouded in mystery.

Abigail is a professional travel writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. You can find her unusual journeys at insidethetravellab.com and say hi to her on Twitter @insidetravellab.


3 | Notes on Love Found at Burning Man

9 min read · By Suzanne Roberts · Read this story on Maptia

Out in the desert at Burning Man, I realised I didn’t need metaphors to describe love—whether it is boy-girl, boy-boy, girl-girl, friendship, or families—affection is the outward manifestation of love, and it is all over the playa.

Suzanne is the author of ‘Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail’, as well as four collections of poetry. Explore more of her writing over at suzanneroberts.net.


4 | Dust, Drugs and Debauchery?

5 min read · By Curtis Simmons · Read this story on Maptia


I attended Burning Man for the first time this year. I am no longer considered a “virgin”. From the art, the music, and the gifting economy, to its vastness and the temporal nature of this festival, here are a few thoughts about my “first time”.

Curtis is a passionate photographer and COO at Stuckincustoms.com. You can find more of his mesmerising photography at curtis.si or drop him a note on Twitter @curtissimmons.


5 | The Penis Worshippers

4 min read · By Michael Turtle · Read this story on Maptia

From the traditional carving of radishes into phallic shapes, to penis-shaped lollipops, to a giant pink statue of a dong that is paraded through the streets—the penis festival in Kawasaki is an unusual celebration of manhood that has taken place at the Shinto shrine for four centuries.

With everything on his back and all the time in the world, Michael is a lover of travel and beer in equal measure. Read about his explorations on timetravelturtle.com and drop him a line @michaelturtle.


The most shocking festival we’ve ever seen is Thaipusam. It attracts two million people who pay homage to the Lord Muruga. Worshippers pierce spikes through their cheeks, and stab hooks in their backs to pull chariots and people, with reins attached to these hooks. 

Dave and Deb of theplanetd.com have explored all seven continents and over 80 countries. Living by their motto ‘Adventure is For Everyone’, they aim to prove that you don’t have to be an uber-athlete, adrenaline junkie or a member of the ultra rich to be an adventurer. Say hi to them on Twitter @theplanetd.


7 | Dahi Handi Celebrations

3 min read · By Sandeepa and Chetan · Read this story on Maptia

Dahi (yogurt) Handi (pot) literally translates to a pot of yogurt! It celebrates his endearing love for all things milk, and the tricks the mischievous, naughty baby Krishna would resort to—just to get his hands on that creamy yogurt his mother would try to hide in vain!

Sandeepa and Chetan are a couple from Mumbai, India who have set out to discover the world together. You can find more of their delightful travel musings at sandeepachetan.com and get in touch with them via Twitter @sandeepa.


8 | Tet the Lunar New Year

9 min read · By Jodi Ettenberg · Read this story on Maptia

As the Year of the Snake approached, and colourful decorations lined the streets, the fast-paced and fluid city of Saigon was filled with a pre-Tet madness. Lucky enough to live in a house that adopted me as one of their own, my memories are of food and family.

Jodi Ettenberg is an author, soup expert and former lawyer from Montreal, she has been eating her way around the world since 2008. Check out her book the Food Travelers’ Handbook, sign up for one of her upcoming food walks in Saigon or ask her pho soup related questions on Twitter @legalnomads.


9 | My Big Fat Uzbek Wedding

5 min read · By Matt Evans · Read this story on Maptia

A table awash with lamb and vodka. An impromptu wedding speech. Dancing with other men’s wives. I think I might be a little out of my depth here. And I wasn’t even invited.

Peruse more of Matt’s whimsical and worldly adventures over on silkystories.com and if you are suitably impressed then feel free to engage with his abbreviated ramblings @mattyevans75.


10 | Full Moon Party

4 min read · By Cindy Fan · Read this story on Maptia

Young folks flock to Thailand for the famous—or rather, infamous—Full Moon Parties. Considered a rite of passage for backpackers on the Southeast Asia “Banana Pancake Trail”, the Full Moon Party is not for the faint of heart, and probably not for anyone over 30, either.

Cindy is a Canadian writer and photographer living in Laos. She has a fantastic blog over at somanymiles.com and if you’d like to drop her a friendly tweet to tell her you enjoyed her story, you can find Cindy on Twitter @cindyisAWOL.


11 | New Year’s Eve on Lake Kariba

3 min read · By Rachel Kristensen · Read this story on Maptia

We travelled from all over the world to celebrate. Exploring Lake Kariba’s expansive waters was our plan, but we ended up shipwrecked together on its shoreline instead.

Rachel is a tea-drinking adventure junkie who set out to experience what the world has to offer and shares her stories over at meander-the-world.com. Follow her adventurous meanderings on Twitter @meandertheworld.


12 | Of Matadors and Modern Festivals

4 min read · By Kiersten Rich · Read this story on Maptia

“Pamplona was rough, as always, overcrowded... It is all there, as it always was, except forty thousand tourists have been added. There were not twenty tourists when I first went there... four decades ago.” —Ernest Hemingway, 1985

Kiersten left her career in corporate finance to see the world and tick off some of the items on her ambitious bucket list—you can find many more of her wonderful adventures over on theblondeabroad.com or say hi to her on Twitter @theblondeabroad.


A two day riot of colour, dance and music, the Sani Festival is the perfect way to build a social camaraderie among the far flung villages of the Zanskar valley.

Sandeepa and Chetan are a couple from Mumbai, India who have set out to discover the world together. You can find more of their delightful travel musings at sandeepachetan.com and get in touch with them via Twitter @sandeepa.


14 | Festival Crashers

4 min read · By Madeline Scharpf · Read this story on Maptia

Spring and summertime in Tokyo are bursting with celebrations. The city fills with dragons, lanterns, children in kimonos, dance parties in the park and old people carrying gallons of sake.

Madeline Scharpf is the writer behind the compendium of wondrous travel stories over at allons-y.com (Doctor Who fans will understand). Let her know if you enjoyed her festival crashing escapades on Twitter @MadelineScharpf.


FIBArk (First in Boating on the Arkansas) is a whitewater festival held in a small Colorado mountain town that will surprise you with the intensity of its fearless river competitors and revelers.

Constantly curious, Stephanie is a traveler, teacher and freelance writer. Follow her misadventures at traveloops.com or drop her a line on Twitter @TravelOops.


16 | An Italian Festa

4 min read · By Karen Lobban · Read this story on Maptia

During the summer months, colourful festas are a common sight all over Italy. In the small town of Roccella Ionica, that overlooks the sparkling, clear blue waters of the Reggio Calabria region, it is no different.

Karen Lobban is always searching for new things to see, do and learn. Check out her website at karenlobban.com and do let her know if you enjoyed her festa story in less than 140 characters on Twitter @karen_lobban.


17 | No Ordinary Christmas

4 min read · By Irene and Rick Butler · Read this story on Maptia

Alpaca, roasted Inca style, brightly decorated altars and angelic choirs in small colonial churches, drums and bells floating in the air—celebrating Christmas in the city of Puno, on the shores of the beautiful Lake Titicaca, made for a memorable way to spend the holiday season.

Keep abreast of Irene and Rick’s most recent wanderings over on globaltrekkers.ca or say hi to Irene @globaltrekkers2 on Twitter.


18 | Dreaming of a White-Hot Christmas

8 min read · By Alanna Freeman · Read this story on Maptia

When you come from a place of frosty, windscreen-fogged winters, where December is a time to wrap up warm and thaw by an open fire at the local old-man pub, a hot Christmas is more than a bizarre concept. It turns your world upside down.

Alanna Freeman officially caught the Travel bug in 2010 and has been wandering wondrously round the world on and off since then. Find more of her great writing at alannafreeman.com or drop her a note on Twitter @alannafree.


19 | Auf der Reeperbahn (Festival)!

4 min read · By Simona Ardito · Read this story on Maptia

When they told me I would be in Hamburg following the band Fabryka, who should have been playing at Reeperbahn Festival, I was really excited. I didn’t know how much “excited” was a proper word...

Simona Ardito is a talented storyteller—always roaming with a hungry heart. Take a look at more of her photography on Flickr here.


20 | Holi in Mathura

6 min read · By Phil Gribbon · Read this story on Maptia

I knew I wanted to take photos of Holi in India, and asked the Internet where she thought I should go. Mathura was the answer.

Phil Gribbon is a British/Irish designer and photographer based in Cairo, Egypt. We absolutely recommend checking out his phenomenal portfolio at philgribbon.com and you can always drop him a line on Twitter @philgribbon.


As one of the longest religious celebrations in the world Señor de los Milagros takes over the streets of Lima. Honoring the Lord of Miracles and Cristo Moreno was a vibrant, musical, lively ongoing experience in the streets of my Barranco neighborhood.

Crystal Palmer is an outgoing professional volleyball player with a lust for adventure and passion for photography. Follow her life in perpetual motion on her blog here or follow her on Twitter @See_C_go.


“Love at Burning Man, a Penis Festival, an Uzbek Wedding & Other Stories” (tweet this here) and feel free to @mention any festival-loving friends!

Thanks to our wonderful in-house illustrator Ella Frances Sanders for once again providing the hand-drawn goodness in this post.


Culinary Adventures

Maptia Storytelling Theme 6


Have you ever experienced otherworldly gastronomic delights or tasted cultural delicacies of unusual origin? If so, we hope that many of you will share your stories and find the time to spin an appetising yarn! As always, we will be featuring your top stories on our blog in a few weeks’ time alongside other mouthwatering narratives. Be sure to complete your stories on Maptia by Monday 10 January for a chance to be featured.

For now, just a small group of founding storytellers are contributing to Maptia and we are only able to send a limited number of new invites each week. We don’t yet have the resources to cope with more, and are still working on the coding and design. However, if you have a food-related story in mind, and absolutely can’t wait to get started, then send a 200-word snippet and photo to stories@maptia.com and we would love to shuffle your invite right to the front of the queue.


If you have made it through all these stories of Festivals and Celebrations why not take a look at a couple more of our most popular posts below:

Places are Made of a Thousand Stories Our long-term vision for storytelling on Maptia.

Great Expeditions A photo essay containing 20 of the greatest adventurers and explorers from past and present.


Date added
Location Taghazout, Morocco