The Big Book of Festivals by Marita Bullock & Joan-Maree Hargreaves

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

In size and appearance, one would wrongly conclude that this is a book for young children. Happily, this is not so. The efforts of the two writers and the illustrator have produced an attractive book that is interesting and informative to us all.

The Festivals featured occur all over the world. A love of festivals is universal. Some are wild, even crazy. Many are bristling with colour and excitement. There are ancient festivals that are sacred and important to their celebrants. Together they exemplify the range and diversity of the different cultures on our planet, and the joy and purpose in observing this.

Considerable research has led to detailed information on each festivity. Customs, beliefs, music, history and dates occurring, are listed. Although a single child is often a focus in each, this does not reduce the appeal for adults. There is much to learn and absorb.

Causes to celebrate vary enormously. In Pakistan, the birth of Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh religion, is 500 years old whereas Buddha’s is over 2,500 and is marked by processions, lanterns and special dress. Its importance is observed by millions.

The birth of a great religious leader is not always the cause to rejoice.

Thousands of years older, and probably the oldest, is the Bunya Dreaming festival of Australia’s First Nation people. Usually in January, when bunya nuts have ripened, tribes would gather from along the Eastern Coast to feast in large numbers in SE Queensland, home of the bunya pine.

Spring cleaning might seem to be an odd way to celebrate, but in Iran, it marks the first day of the New Year. Mowruz is their most important festival. A candle is lit on a table where seven foods symbolise love, beauty, health, wisdom, patience, wealth and fertility.

Because it began in ancient Persia over 3,000 years ago, Mowruz has spread to many parts of the world today.

Matariki, a Maori festival, flies kites to get close to the stars which is believed carry the spirits of ancestors.

For thrills and excitement, Turkey’s Whirling Dervishes begin with solemn worship then follow with rapid twirling.

The messiest must be La Tomalina, Spain’s tomato throwing party. It began in the twentieth century and grows in popularity. It has no religious meaning!

The largest Bathing Festival happens in the Ganges – the Kumbh Mela. Holy men on elephants lead as many as 150,000,000 people who believe that the sacred river brings immortality to bathers. It happens every 12 years.

Nigeria has its festival to The Power of Mothers, called Gelede. It’s a celebration of community and triumph over hardships. Intricate masks and headdresses are worn by the Yoruba people. They hope to keep the spirits wise, calm and healing.

Wonderful colour and excitement are key to the carnivals of Venice and Rio de Janeiro

There is Mexico’s Day of the Dead, and Hallowe’en, once exclusively American but now worldwide.

Perhaps the biggest of all is Lunar New Year which China and parts of Asia celebrate as families unite in January and February. Dragons weave through the streets, fireworks crack and red lanterns sway. All are intended to usher in good luck.

In addition to the more familiar major festivals, seasonal and regional ones are touched upon in half page summaries.

The Big Book of Festivals is a joyous reminder of the universal importance of this aspect of peoples’ lives, and how closely connected we are- we do love a party!

Altogether the two talented writers, and their colleague who has done a delightful job as illustrator, have given us a comprehensive treatise on an appealing subject.

The Big Book of Festivals


by Marita Bullock & Joan-Maree Hargreaves

Illustrated by Liz Rowland

Hachette [Lothian]

ISBN 978 07344 1997 2

$29.99; 58 pages


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