Night of the Radishes (Noche de Rábanos) is an annual event held every December 23rd in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. In 2005, I volunteered to be the “official” photographer for the city Government, as the City had no decent photographs to use for their event promotion and marketing, nor any budget to create them.
It is one of the most unusual Christmas season events I’ve ever seen, let alone photographed, as it is an event dedicated to the carving of oversized giant radishes. The point is to create scenes, characters, and animals that compete for prizes in various radish carving categories. I never knew there were such a thing as radish carving categories until the week I spent over that Christmas in the State of Oaxaca, City of Oaxaca, Mexico. Historic indeed, this event has its origins in the colonial period when radishes were first introduced into Mexico by the Spanish over a couple of hundred years ago.
Oaxaca has a long and time honored wood carving tradition, so no surprise these skills have migrated to other media as well for Night of the Radishes. And what a media it is! These special carving radishes the city raises are HUGE! Some larger even than the children harvesting them earlier in the week especially for the festival carving.
In the olden days predating the official Night of the Radishes festival, farmers began carving radishes into figures as a way to attract customers’ attention during the annual Christmas market which was held in the main square every year historically on December 23.
This festival and competition goes back for many, many years. Back to 1897, when the city of Oaxaca created the first formal radish competition. As the city has grown, the city has had to dedicate land to the growing of the radishes used for this event. In fact, even in today’s modern world of privatization, supervising the growth and distribution of the radishes to competitors is an important enough task it falls to the Oaxaca city government.
The event has become very popular, attracting over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors in modern times. Since radishes soon wilt after cutting, the art works can only be displayed for a number of hours before they degrade into just another pile of spoiled vegetables. If you have ever visited a produce market late in the evening after a long day of sales, you will well understand why the very long lines for those wishing to see the works early.
The event also has an excellent display and separate competitions for works made using corn husks and dried flowers, created with the same themes as those with radishes. With over a hundred years of tradition behind them, nothing can compete with the radishes. And no joy is better for the Christmas season than the huge smiles on the children’s faces who participate in this annual Christmas season event every year.