When we decided to spend the Christmas holiday in Oaxaca we did some research and one of the things we found out about is the Night of the Radishes. It sounded too fun to pass up so we made sure were in Oaxaca by Dec. 23 when La Noche de Rabanos is traditionally held. Evidently it's one of the most anticipated celebrations in Oaxaca. Every year, the humble radish is carved into beautiful, intricate sculptures of animals, dancer, saints, conquerors, kings and everything else imaginable.
The Night of the Radishes has an interesting history. It has its origins in the colonial period when radishes were introduced by the Spanish. One legend as to how this began states that one year in the mid 18th century, the radish crop was so abundant that a section lay unharvested for months. In December, two friars pulled up some of these forgotten radishes. The size and shapes were amusing and they brought them as curiosities to the Christmas market held on December 23.
The misshapen vegetables attracted attention and soon they began to be carved to give them a wider variety of shapes and figures. Oaxaca has a long wood carving tradition and the priests encouraged the carving of radishes into figures as a way to attract customers’ attention. In 1897, the city created the formal competition. As the city has grown, the city has had to dedicate land to the growing of the radishes used for the event, supervising their growth and distribution to competitors.
The event has become very popular, attracting over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors. However, since the radishes wilt soon after cutting the displays last only a number of hours, which has led to very long lines for those wishing to see them. We were warned that if we went to see the radishes at night the lines could be miles long and wait times could be 4 to 5 hours. We were advised that if we went in the early afternoon we would be able to see most of the displays and that worked out well. The crowds weren't too bad and most of the displays were set up.
Since the radishes wilt pretty quickly the exhibitors were constantly spraying and wetting them.
The radishes used in the competition have different qualities than the radishes we're familiar with, They have thick skin that is dark red. Many measure up to two feet and weigh up to three kilograms. This type of radish is used for preparing the figures. Until recent years the growers who participated specifically planted radishes for this event. Today, the planting is done in the "Tequio" Forest located on the outskirts of the city. The municipality of Oaxaca borrows a vast expanse of land for planting the radishes which will be given to the contestants. Generally the symbolic planting is done by the Mayor the first days of October. The radishes are softer and easier to carve but due to the amount of chemicals and fertilizers used to make them so big, they're inedible.
Not only do the carvers use the contrast between the skin and the interior, but they also peel and flatten the red skin for use as clothing items, flags and more.Typically participants use knives and toothpicks to create the sculptures, after the tops of the radishes with their long, green leaves have been cut off (and sometimes used in the scenes).
The displays were creative and pretty mind-boggling.
In addition to the radish displays there were elaborate displays using dried flowers
and corn husks
There were several categories and we did our best to figure out what they were. The prize for the winner of the traditional category is 15,000 pesos, roughly $870 U.S. at today's exchange rate.
As we were walking back to the car we came upon a group of children having fun learning to carve the radishes.
They had a pretty good sized pile of radishes to choose from.
La Noche de Rabanos, even though for us it should be titled La Tarde de Rabanos (Afternoon of the Radishes) was great fun. Loved it, love Oaxaca.