Noche de los Rabanos, the Night of the Radishes, in Oaxaca, Mexico, always on December 23 each year, draws huge crowds. The entire zocalo of the city is taken over by giant carved red roots depicting traditional scenes of Oaxaca’s cultural and indigenous life.
There was a new category this year which I can loosely translate as free style. It attracted a lot of young participants who carved phantasmagorical creatures that especially captured the attention of the little ones.
There are also two other categories, one for dried flowers and another for the use of corn husks (totomoxtle in Nahuatl) to create scenes. But it is the radishes that people love.
The number of visitors, coupled with triple the number of vendors, plus all the families of the radish carvers, means that the area is packed with people and hard to navigate.
This year was no exception. So I’m writing this now post-event to give you a heads-up for the future. GO EARLY.
The displays, along the 360 degree circumference of the zocalo, are ringed by a large raised walkway that is gated and protected by guard rails. No one can gain entry to this walkway until 5:00 p.m. when the Radish Festival officially opens. There are guards everywhere to guarantee this.
So, people begin to line up early and by 3:00 p.m. when we got there this year, there were several hundred people in line waiting for the opening bell.
At 3:00 p.m. we were able to peer over these guard rails to see the displays and get some pretty decent camera shots. The designers of the dioramas were constantly obstructing the views with continuous spraying of water to keep the radishes fresh.
The judges were not passing through until close to opening time and everyone wanted their fresh vegetable displays to look perfect. Of course, many of the veggies were not obedient. It was a hot day with lots of wilted leaves and roots.
Most of the time we had to wait our turn to get up to the rail since people were two or three deep. Many had the same idea as we did — avoid the long lines and get an earlier, though somewhat obstructed, view.
It took us until almost 5:00 p.m. to walk around the circumference of the zocalo to see everything. By then, it was nearly impassable. We finished seeing the last display after going full circle just as the clock struck.
There was my friend Francine, along with a couple of other silver headed visitors, who was admitted early. She was pulled out of the line, she said, and allowed to go as a “grande” or a “senior citizen.” I guess this is the time to be grateful you don’t color your hair.
My recommendation is to get there by 2:00 p.m. The displays won’t be complete, but you’ll be able to get the best, somewhat unobstructed views and you won’t have to wait in line for hours or deal with the crush of the crowd.
On the other hand, if you want a totally clear and raised view of everything, then have your wait. In any case, this is a very fun part of being in Oaxaca this time of year.
Oaxaca is safe. We have a small group of Triqui demonstrators who continue to encamp on a small part of the zocalo, but otherwise everything is clear.