Christmas is one of the most widespread religious festivals in the world. Due to movies and TV you are probably familiar with many different customs from other countries surrounding the celebration. Nevertheless, you have probably never heard of this Mexican tradition. Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, is an annual contest that takes place on the day of the Christmas Market (December 23) in the City of Oaxaca, Mexico. On this day, people create figures or scenes from carved radish that compete in several categories.
The event was initialized during the colonial era as a sales method used by farmers to attract buyers to the Christmas market. Today, the Night of the Radishes has a strong popular appeal, bringing together hundreds of contestants and thousands of spectators each year. The waiting time to enter the area can even last up to 4-5 hours!
How The Contest Works
The event attracts up to 100 contestants from throughout the area, especially Oaxaca City and San Antonio Velazco. The contestants are registered months before the contest and have a period from 18 to 23 December to plan the design of their scenes. It is not until December 23, however, that they start carving and assembling the radish figures. Most contestants use more than one radish to create the sculptures. Allthough the main focus lies on the vegetable, the rules allow the use of other elements to embellish the scenes.
Noche de Rábanos itself lasts only a few hours due to the rotting of the radishes shortly after the harvest. The stands are assembled hours before the event in the main square of the city and disassembled the next morning.
There are several categories in which contestants can participate. While the more traditional categories focus mainly on biblical elements and scenes, there are also more contemporary categories that represent Oaxacan lifestyle. Although the main objective of the event is to preserve the Oaxacan traditions, the winner of the traditional category receives a prize of 15,000 pesos.
There are also awards for categories especially for children (6-12 years) in order to encourage new generations to continue the radish carving tradition.
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The Story Behind Noche De Rábanos
The story behind the birth of this tradition emerged in the mid-eighteenth century. In this period, the harvest of radishes was so abundant that whole sections of the fields remained unharvested. In December of that same year, two friars took several radishes with irregular shapes and sizes and brought them to the Christmas Market (December 23) as curiosities. The irregularly shaped radishes attracted the attention of many viewers which soon began to carve figures from the odd shapes.
The carved radish figures were seen as mere sales attractions for several years until Francisco Vasconcelos, governor of Oaxaca during that time, decided to formally create a contest of carved figures in 1897. After that, the contest has been running ever since.
In the beginning, the carved figures only had religious themes related to Christmas due to the date of the event. Eventually, people even started buying radishes not only as a commodity but as a centerpiece or as festive ornaments. Later on, participants in the celebration also incorporated other themes of modern lifetyle and Oaxacan traditions.
The most common elements today include people, animals, food and handicrafts. Apart from these, there are also other much less everyday figures like elves, snowmen and monsters, among others. There are absolutely no limits to the contestants’ imagination!
The next Noche de Rábanos 2020 will take place on Wednesday, 23rd December 2019.
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