Monday, November 30, 2015

Looking for alternative Christmas plans? Why
not celebrate Oaxaca's Night of the Radishes? A
festival of radishes, at first blush, might sound as exciting as a festival of
Tupperware or a festival of string.
But have you seen a Mexican radish? When grown to 20 inches long and six
pounds heavy—some are the size of your forearm—they can be as daunting and
impressive as the gnarliest carrot or yam.
They are no joke, and far more
interesting to look at than that "normal" little veggie Westerners know as
a salad or taco garnish, sliced innocuously thin.
In Oaxaca, Mexico, the town square—known as the zócalo—is filled to
the brim with radish-loving tourists and locals every December 23rd, and has
been since 1897.
It's not because the locals are rabid vegetarians.
That
date is the Night of the Radishes—la Noche de los Rábanos—and aficionados
travel from all over Mexico and beyond its borders to see the intricate
displays carved by craftsmen and women.
Gargantuan radishes are transformed
into red-and-white nativity scenes, radish-only Last Suppers, and trippy
secular scenes like "Radish in Wonderland." Thousands of curious
onlookers form a line that snakes through the streets of Oaxaca's capital
city, waiting to see the artwork.
The artists—more than 100, all competing
for a cash prize—take advantage of the radishes' odd natural shapes as
they concoct their vignettes: A strange, wispy root may become a long,
plaintive arm.
A quick slash of a knife into the radish's red skin creates
white accents.
It's an incredible thing to see, and the city rallies to
witness the event.
How did this fascinating festival get its start? The arrival of Spanish
missionaries in the 16th century coincided with the arrival of radishes in
Mexico, the story goes, and soon afterwards farmers began carving elaborate
sculptures out of their radishes to attract the attention of locals at the
markets.
In 1897, the mayor declared the Noche de los Rábanos an annual
tradition, and children and their parents flocked to the zócalo every year to
see the fun.
Today, block after block fills with people sipping hot chocolate and
champurrado (a thick, chocolate-and-masa-based drink), eating buñuelos (fried
dough), and—if you're this writer—watching men dressed as Santa
breakdancing.
In recent years, corn husks and flowers have begun to dot the
vignettes, although no one seems to find those quite as entertaining as the
rábanos themselves.
One year, a 6-pound radish snacked on another, smaller
radish, with relish.
"¡Rábanos comiendo rábanos!" ("Radishes eating
radishes!") laughed the people around me. After the line has snaked
around the rábanos, the judges—usually local officials and
luminaries—take the stage to the announce the winners.
The triumphant few
will take home more than $1,000 in cash to offset the price of those radishes
and their travel costs, but some locals and tourists will also negotiate for
their favorite rábanos after the festivities end.
The best tip if you plan to attend? Get there early, before the stalls open
up, and get in line.
Put in an order with a friend to pick up champurrado and
sweet bread—pan de naranja, or orange bread, is fantastic pretty much
everywhere in town—and maybe snag a dance with Santa.
How else are you gonna
pass the time? In Oaxaca, the Night of the Radishes draws
crowds ogling figures and nativity scenes carved out of the root
vegetables.
Read more.

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