Tag Archives: Radish Festival

How to Navigate Oaxaca’s Radish Festival: Norma’s Tips

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.

The Zocalo has Triqui demonstrators for many years. But the teachers are gone!

Triqui demonstrators on the Zocalo, but the teachers are gone!

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.

Radishes are not just for eating: Oaxaca Radish Festival

With tongue-in-cheek, National Public Radio retorts, Survived The Mayan Apocalypse? Here Come the Radish People.   In three days on December 23 and just in time for Christmas, Oaxaqueños and visitors from throughout Mexico and the world will queue up around Oaxaca’s Zocalo for the annual ritual of the Radish Festival.  If you are in town, don’t miss it!


Crowds are huge and often fifteen or twenty people deep to get sightings of giant radishes carved into still life sculpture that depict nativity scenes and the themes of village life.  The spectacle officially begins at sundown, but my “trick” is to get there in early to mid-afternoon so I can get a closer and unobstructed view.


There’s even a section for a children’s carving lesson during the afternoon.  It’s fun to watch the kids put their hand to this craft. DSCN4536

You might ask, do radishes really grow this BIG?  Gosh, yes.  The farmers in Ocotlan, where these special radishes are grown, have cultivated a variety that are dense with a ruby-red skin and carve up beautifully.  Oaxaca is known for her crafts and why not carved radishes, that now join the ranks of alebrijes as a folk art.


Radishes as cathedrals, stepping stones, horse-pulled carts, dancers and musicians.  They are kept fresh with regular mists of water.

I took these photos in 2007 with a really crummy point-and-shoot camera but you get the gist.  This Christmas I’m in North Carolina staying toasty warm in front of the wood stove listening to my husband practicing his cello, reminiscing about Oaxaca.

Warmest wishes for the holidays and a joyous, healthy, content and peaceful  new year.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Possibility

Sunset at Las Cuevitas

New Year’s in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca, is an extraordinary, momentous and reflective time when families gather to make wishes for the coming year.  The celebration is on January 2 when the entire village makes a pilgrimage to the caves (las cuevitas) or grottoes in the hills outside the town.  There, they make an offering to the Virgin of Guadalupe for the hopes, dreams and possibilities of the year to come.  From the twigs, rocks and grasses, families will construct a symbolic house, adding a roof or a garden or barnyard or a new addition or a second floor.  Everyone wants to create a home that holds children, grandchildren, grandparents, aunts and uncles.  This is a sign of both satisfaction and wealth.

This photo captures the mystery of the Las Cuevitas annual ritual.  As the sun sets and the people gather, the possibilities for the future are luminous.

Las Cuevitas Sparkler

The boy sits by the “house” made of rocks contemplating his future.  A sparkler lights the space.  Are the possibilities limitless for him?  Oaxaca is the second poorest state in Mexico and many young people migrate to the cities or El Norte looking for work.  Perhaps he will stay in the village and work construction or weave like his father or grandfather before him or plow his father’s fields and plant them with organic indigenous maize.  Will he dream of going on to high school?  Perhaps. And, then, what possibilities will open to him?

A family wishes for bright possibilities

Circle of Women, a not-for-profit advocacy organization, says, “Oaxaca, being a mainly indigenous state, has one of the lowest literacy rates in Mexico, and literacy among indigenous adult women is even lower. Historically there has been a major bias towards Spanish literacy in education, leaving indigenous languages marginalized. Migration to the US for jobs has also left women as heads of households. Illiteracy and discrimination has been a major barrier for women in trying to market their weaving products and create sustainable micro-businesses.”

See our Oaxaca arts workshops:  Christmas and New Year’s photojournalism workshop, Day of the Dead documentary photography, creative writing, and more.


Photojournalism Workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico–Las Cuevitas and Day of the Three Kings

Like a writer, a photojournalist captures and tells a story through the still photographs s/he takes that is accompanied by a short written narrative.  Oaxaca, Mexico, during the extraordinary and magical Christmas season will be our workshop laboratory to discover and record the scenes of the season– Las Cuevitas and Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany).

 Las Cuevitas–The Caves and Dia de los Tres Reyes–Day of the Three Kings, arrive December 31 and depart January 7    

Plus add-on a Zapotec cooking class with Reyna Mendoza Ruiz on December 31  [arrive December 30] or on January 7  [depart January 8]   –  details below

Bring your digital camera (point-and-shoot or DSLRs welcome), your memory cards, your note pad and pen, your imagination and your sense of adventure.  We will teach you the techniques for capturing and documenting the culture with your camera and writing about what you see to accompany your photos.

The Christmas holidays in Oaxaca are magical and mystical, vibrant and festive.  They are filled with processions, special foods, merrymaking and solemnity.  Together, we will discuss the region’s rich history and culture, the art and craft traditions, belief systems and relationships to nature and daily life.  We will visit archeological sites and crafts villages. This will inform your photographic work that is anchored with diary entries.

Outline of Itinerary:

December 31 — Arrive in Oaxaca and travel from airport to Teotitlan del Valle, check in to bed and breakfast inn.  (If you want to take a cooking class today, arrive on December 30.)

January 1 — Our workshop starts with a morning learning session followed by a day trip to the local Tlacolula regional tianguis (market) filled with food, aprons, household goods, crafts, everything and the kitchen sink.  All day excursion on local bus includes lunch.

January 2 — Morning learning session followed by lunch with a famous weaving family and a procession to Las Cuevitas, the magical caves of Teotitlan del Valle (bring tripods for night photography if you wish)

January 3 — leave in early morning for a day in craft villages of Arrazola and Atzompa, with visit to renown Mesoamerican archeological site of Monte Alban. Following dinner in the city, return to Teotitlan del Valle.

January 4 — Morning learning session followed by weaving and natural dyeing demonstration with Master weaver Federico Chavez Sosa.

January 5 —  After morning learning session, enjoy a demonstration with artisans who work in natural dyes and handspun and woven silk. Spend the afternoon with a family celebrating Dia de Los Tres Reyes.

January 6 — After morning learning session, spend the day on your own to explore, shop or prepare for the evening final presentation and best of week show.

January 7 — Depart or stay an extra day for a cooking class in traditional Oaxacan foods including how to prepare mole [also available on December 31 before the workshop begins]

June Finfer, photographer, filmmaker, playwright

June Finfer, Chicago playwright, documentarian, and photographer will lead you in this learning adventure where you will enter into the world of the Mixtec and Zapotec people.  June will share her tips on using your camera to capture the decisive moment, and her writing experience on how to keep a diary of your experience.  You will in effect be a photojournalist.

Use what you learn to become a photojournalist

The Internet has created many opportunities for amateurs to contribute to the art of photojournalism.  Small, portable cameras give each of us the personal power to create stories through images that are publishable on blogs, podcasts and online news magazines.

Even traditional media outlets welcome photographs from amateurs who capture an important event with fair and accurate representation.

We will discuss ethical approaches to objectivity, the role of the citizen journalist, what to shoot, how to frame, and how to edit.

You can focus in-depth on a subject or a wide survey.  You will build a portfolio of photographs and narration based on these important rituals that combine pre-Hispanic and Catholic traditions.  Using the techniques of photojournalism, you will be able to record the visual elements of the celebrations while learning about their significance.

About Your Workshop Leader June Finfer 

JUNE FINFER is an award-winning playwright, photographer, and a producer of documentaries. She studied photography at Illinois Institute of Technology with Aaron Siskind and her films about the architecture of Mies van der Rohe have been broadcast on A&E and PBS. Her play, The Glass House, was produced off-Broadway in New York in 2010.  She adapted an unfinished novel by Shirley Jackson, directed by Joanne Woodward for American Playhouse, nationally broadcast by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

June’s films include Greentowns USA: A New Deal,  Earthshapers,  Creating Community: Lafayette Park, and The Tugendhat House: Mies van der Rohe’s Czech Masterpiece. Awards and Grants include: American Film Festival, first prize CINE Goethe-Institute Graham Foundation for Advanced Study in the Fine Arts, Illinois Arts Council,  Illinois Humanities Council,  Maryland Humanities Council,  Ohio Humanities Council, TELLY U.S. International Film and Video Festival.  See details at www.lostandfoundproductions.org

Lodging and Costs: 

We will be based in the Zapotec weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle.  To keep this program affordable, we have selected clean and basic accommodations at a woman-operated bed and breakfast inn that is part of their family compound.  Josefina, along with her mother-in-law Magdalena and daughter Eloisa, prepare delicious meals from scratch.  (If you desire luxury travel, please consider a different experience.)

Base Cost: $1195 per person double occupancy with shared bath facilities.  6 nights, 7 days.

[  ] Option 1:  I will share a room, double occupancy with shared bath, $1195 per person.

[  ] Option 2:  I prefer a single room with shared bath for a total of $1,295 per person.

[  ] Option 3: I will share a room, double occupancy, with private bath for a total of $1,295 per person.

[  ] Option 4: I prefer a single room with private bath for a total of $1,495.

[  ]  Option 5:  Add-on a 5-hour Zapotec cooking class, includes local market shopping tour and lunch, on December 31 (arrive on December 30) or January 7 (depart on January 8).   Add $110 for cooking class and additional night lodging.

If you want to arrive earlier or stay later, we can arrange additional nights lodging in Teotitlan del Valle at $55 per night and additional nights lodging in Oaxaca city at $125 per night (each includes breakfast).

Most travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The trip does NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation to and from Oaxaca city.

We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Register Today! Use the Registration Form on the banner.

Full payment is due to register you for the program.  We prefer Payment with PayPal. 

Please see our cancellation policy in the “Register Today” section of the home page.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To get your questions answered and to register, contact: normahawthorne@mac.com or call (919) 274-6194.  Thank you.

This program is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.

December Holidays in Oaxaca

Winter holidays – during the Christmas season and through the New Year – are a perfect time to visit Oaxaca (Wah-Ha-Kah). The daytime sun is warming and the evening chill is perfect for strolling wrapped in a hand woven robozo (shawl). Festive, brightly colored cut paper flags hang from the tops of buildings and drape across narrow cobblestone streets. Glorious deep cardinal red Buena Noche (red poinsettia) are planted like a carpet throughout the beds of the Zocalo and adorn the arched entry doors of village houses. Doorways are draped in ribbon and twinkle with electric lights.

December 12: Fiesta de la Virgen de Guadalupe

This annual celebration is held throughout Mexico, but in Teotitlan The Dance of the Feather is performed during this day in the church courtyard to celebrate Guadalupe´s anniversary.

December 15-23: Posadas in Teotitlan del Valle

In Teotitlan de Valle, the faithful join daily evening posadas that wend their way through the narrow streets and alleyways of villages, following a band that plays Sousa-like marching music and church elders who carry the Virgin, swinging copal incense and select men and women balancing hand-rolled beeswax candles to light the way. Each year nine families are chosen to host the Virgin Mary on each of the nights before Christmas eve.  Each night represents the nine months of Guadalupe’s pregnancy.  The processionals are led by the hosting family carrying sculptures of Jose (Joseph) and Maria (Mary) through the main streets of the village before delivering them to the next posada house.  Each host family invites relatives and friends to celebrate the honor with them, and the revelry continues through the night with songs, prayer, music, food and drink.  On the last night, the Ultimate Posada (La Posada Ultima) is the most special for the chosen family because they become godparents to the birth of Jesus, who appears in the creche that night to join Joseph and Mary.

December 23: La Noche de los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes)

These are giant red horseradishes grown on farms in the Ocotlan region of Oaxaca, carved into dioramas depicting religious and village life – imagine it and there will be a radish carved to look like it. The lines start to form around the Zocalo at around 4 p.m. and can extend for 12 square blocks. People come from throughout the state of Oaxaca and tourists descend from around the world. The outdoor cafes surrounding the Zocalo are packed and it is difficult to find a seat – squatters arrive early and never get up. People are careful to eat and drink very slowly. There is a raised platform walkway that funnels viewers around the periphery of the staging and display area. Throughout the night, the radish carvers wield big squirt bottles of water to freshen their displays to prevent wilting. The Grand Prize is $10,000 USD!

We like to get there early, around mid to late afternoon, when there are fewer people so we are there as the final carving is being done and the finishing touches are put on – a hat placed on a radish head, a hoe fixed with a toothpick into the hand of a radish farmer, a cross tilted to just the right angle in the arm of a radish priest. Last year, we got to the Zocalo too late, and found snaking lines that had no end, so we crossed through the line and entered into the center of the plaza, able to see a rear view of what was going on, craning our necks to get a glimpse of the radish scenes before us. It was fun to talk to the farmers this way.

December 24: Christmas Eve in Templo Santo Domingo

The gold altar of Santo Domingo Church is never more resplendent than it is on Christmas Eve. If you are going to midnight mass, be certain to arrive and get a seat by 10:30 p.m. otherwise it is standing room only in the back of the church. Overflow is outside the church doors in the chill December air. The entire service is in Spanish and it is punctuated with responsive reading and choral music.

Christmas eve is celebrated in Teotitlan just like everywhere else in Mexico.

December 25: Parade of the Buses

Yes, this is a day off for the bus drivers, who bring their families with them to the city to ride in the parade. Bus drivers own their own buses, and they come from all the surrounding villages to participate. The buses are festooned with flowers, crepe paper, and all sorts of holiday decorations. Family members smile and wave – they remind me of the floats in the Rose Parade. A posada of buses. A sight to behold.

No one works on Christmas day; it is a time to visit with family.

December 31:  Las Cuevitas– Pedimento

Teotitlan villagers walk up to the “pedimento” which they call cuevitas because there are several little caves around this hill.  Folklore has it that an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe was found here and it is considered a sacred place.  People stay overnight to receive the new year here and believe that if you ask for anything you want on January 1st, it will come true during the year.

In Oaxaca City on December 31, families usually have a big dinner together to receive the new year.  At midnight, 12:00 a.m., they eat 12 grapes and ask for 12 wishes.

January 1: New Year in Teotitlan del Valle

The entire village goes by foot or car or tuk-tuk (moto-taxi) to the holy area just outside the village in the foothills that is dotted with caves. There is a grotto there to make an offering of prayers for a healthy and happy new year. The tradition is to bring a picnic and gather up stones from the landscape, build a dream house, make a wish, and the dreams will come true. The first year that we went, we were the only non-indigenous participants. In recent years, we have seen more visitors participating with local Zapotec community members in the ancient celebration.