In Oaxaca, Mexico, a mass harvest of radishes is underway in preparation for Noche de Rábanos, Radish Night, one of Mexico's many unique and colorful festivals. And like most other festivals of its kind, Radish Night is full of entertaining history and odd appeal.
Legend has it that two Spanish monks assisted the local people to grow produce in the land that was naturally irrigated by the Atoyac River. Once cultivated, the monks encouraged the farmers to carve intricate figures into the radishes as a way to allure people to purchase the produce at the market. The odd entrepreneurship stuck and became a staple of the area's culture, over the years developing into the festival it is today.
Every year around mid-December (this year is December 22), the radishes are harvested and brought to participating local artists who go to work on their crop carvings—designing anything from human figures to buildings. Other varieties of fruits and vegetables are also on display but in accordance to the festival's name, radishes are the main event. Artists regularly let the unique shape of the radish dictate what it will be carved into. The most uniquely-styled radish wins a grand prize of 13,000 pesos ($1,300 U.S. dollars) and the artist's picture and winning work in the paper. The designers also compete in two other competitions, using dried flowers and corn husks for creation.
The heavily fertilized vegetables are grown solely for the competition and not suitable for consumption. The largest of radishes can grow to 50 centimeters in length and weigh up to seven pounds.
Stephanie Schneiderman, who grew up in Mexico City, offers Night of the Radishes tours from her home-grown tour company, Tia Stephanie Tours. The eight-day tour takes visitors through the radish carving contest as well as posadas, calenda parades, tours of Oaxaca and surrounding craft villages, walkthroughs of ancient Zapotec ruins at Monte Alban and Mitla, and the opportunity to participate in cooking classes to learn techniques used in the regional cuisine. Check it out for 2011's running of Noche de Rábanos!
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