One of the more bizarre things I have done – in a year packed with bizarre things – is to stand in a massive snaking line for 2.5 hours waiting my turn to see hundreds of artistically carved radishes. Welcome to Noche de rábanos, one of the most popular events held each year in Oaxaca.
Noche de rábanos or Night of the Radishes has been celebrated since 1897 and is held in the zocalo every December 23rd, officially making it part of Oaxacan Christmas festivities. The radishes are grown especially for this competition each year and don’t look like radishes as we know them, some football sized and reaching 20kg in weight.
Artisans spend the days before the festival carefully selecting their radishes, and then start carving very early in the morning of the 23rd. The festival only goes from around 2pm when people start setting their displays up, to 11pm the same night when the winner is crowned. Between 2pm and 11pm, people continually dart amongst the displays with spray bottles refreshing their creations as they start to wilt under the strung lights.
Some displays illustrate daily life in Oaxaca, with scenes made entirely of radishes showing calendas (street parades), the Guelaguetza (famous dance festival in July), marriages, Dia de los Muertos, women selling chapulines (fried grasshoppers which are considered a delicacy here) and others. As it’s also Christmas-time, some artisans had depicted the birth, crucifixion and death of Jesus. There was also a children’s section with the winners of the primary school competition on display.
After the winner of the carving was announced, there were fireworks (of course), and then people headed off to get something to eat or wandered slowly up to Santo Domingo where the Christmas carols were set to start. Many many vendors from local villages had travelled to Oaxaca to take advantage of the tourist crowds and they sat on blankets on the side of the pedestrian thoroughfare displaying their wares: tapetes, baskets, shirts, pottery and alebrijes (wooden animals) for last minute purchases.
I could hear the Christmas carols from my apartment as I got ready to go to bed; it’s such a wonderful time to be in Oaxaca and to be part of Christmas festivities that have taken place here for literally hundreds of years. I fell asleep wondering how I would be able to find a giant jelly cake – my contribution towards Christmas dinner tomorrow night…