Rabbits, butterflies, cherry blossoms or potatoes - around the world, people celebrate festivals in which plants and animals play a central role. Global Ideas brings you a sample.
Bunnies and eggs
At first glance, fluffy rabbits and colorful eggs have little to do with the actual event that Christians celebrate each year at Easter - the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It's considered the most important festival of the religion. The eggs stand for new life and renewal while the rabbits are a symbol of fertility and resurrection. In Germany, tradition dictates that the "easter bunny" hide the colorfully painted eggs or colorfully wrapped chocolate eggs that the children then have to hunt for on Easter Sunday.
It's a breathtaking natural spectacle when thousands of monarch butterflies arrive simultaneously in Mexico. Months earlier, their ancestors had set off from Canada to spend the winters in warm Mexico. And, it isn't just a stunning scene to behold. For some Mexicans, the long journey the butterflies undertake also carries symbolic meaning.
That's because their arrival coincides with the "Día de los Muertos," a festival that's traditionally meant to honor the dead. Myth has it that along with the butterflies, the souls of the dead return back# to their families and Mexicans welcome the event with a festival. They decorate graves with flowers and set up small altars that they embellish with candles and flowers. And, they also dress up for the occasion. Many paint themselves as human skulls and celebrate with street parades and floats.
Spud, tuber, yam – the humble potato may go by many names. But that's nowhere close to the many different varieties of it that exist in the world. While in many places, only a few types are known, the diversity in the homeland of the potato is simply staggering. From egg-yolk yellow to violet or a patterned red, there are around 4,000 varieties in Peru in all forms, colors and sizes.
As one of the most important and nourishing basic foods in the world, we can hardly imagine life without the potato. The same goes for traditions in Peru.
Every year, people celebrate the harvest festival "Día de la Papa" in the national park in the Cusco region. Everything here revolves around the potato. People offer gifts, alms and food to thank Pachamama or Mother Earth for the rich harvest and pray to her to continue with her benevolence.
"They call it God's creation, we call it biodiversity. But we all want to preserve it," says tree researcher Margaret Lowman. She works in Ethiopia together with priests from Christian groups in order to preserve traditional forests in the area.
A growing population and rising demand for wood have shrunk many forests in the area. The old groves are often the only intact forests because they are protected for religious reasons. Such church forests aren't just found in Africa; they are also evident in parts of the Himalayan ranges in India where religious traditions help to protect old forests.
The beauty of the cherry blossom tree takes center stage each year at the Hanami festival in Japan. As the trees begin to bloom, people gather outside and have picnics under the blooming flower canopies. An entry on Wikipedia even suggests that the Japanese saying "Hana jori dango" reflects the real priorities of some visitors to the festival. That's because translated, it means something like “dumplings are better than flowers."
But whether their concerns are about flowers or food, there's little doubt that the festival holds huge significance for the Japanese. That's evident as an event from 1997 shows: due to a computer error, the forecast for the day of the first cherry blossom had to be corrected several times. Following that, the meteorologist responsible had to go on national television and apologize profusely for the slip-up.
Flowers are all the rage too at the Chongyang Festival in China, also known as the Double Ninth Festival. But here it's not cherry blossoms, but rather chrysanthemum that are in the spotlight. And, not just in the form of flowers. Drinking chrysanthemum wine is an important part of the festival. As is eating chrysanthemum cake which is made up of nine layers, alluding to the name of the festival that is always celebrated on the ninth day of the ninth month of the Chinese lunar calendar.
During the festival many Chinese go on hikes and climbing in the countryside. Many carry a spray of dogwood. According to myth, the combination of chrysanthemum wine and climbing a hill with such a sprig protects people from calamities.
What festivals and rituals do you celebrate in your country in which plants and animals play a central role? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section!