Agenda: Calendar of festivals

To celebrate the Cheung Chau Bun Festival in Hong Kong, the locals build 20m-tall metal towers covered in buns. Statues of Saint Marie-Jacobe and Saint Marie-Salome are carried in a procession during the annual Pilgrimage of the Gypsies in France.
To celebrate the Cheung Chau Bun Festival in Hong Kong, the locals build 20m-tall metal towers covered in buns. PHOTO: YUM YUM CHA/ FACEBOOK


For one of Hong Kong's most unique festivals, join thousands of locals who hop on a ferry to Cheung Chau island.

The annual week-long Cheung Chau Bun Festival is held in honour of Pak Tai, the Taoist god of the sea, who is credited with fighting a plague off the island more than a century ago. The festivities include a parade, lion dances, the creation of papier mache effigies, Taoist ceremonies and music performances.

But the highlights are metal conical towers that are 20m tall and are built by islanders in front of Pak Tai Temple. The towers are covered in buns, which represent good luck.

At midnight on Buddha's birthday, which falls on May 3 this year in Hong Kong, participants climb the towers. The goal is to grab a bun from the top. It is said that the higher the bun, the better their luck will be.

When: Today to Thursday

Statues of Saint Marie-Jacobe and Saint Marie-Salome are carried in a procession during the annual Pilgrimage of the Gypsies in France. PHOTO: SAINTES MARIES DE LA MER TOURIS



The Pen World Voices Festival of International Literature is an annual gathering of more than 100 writers, artists and intellectuals who use literature as a launching point to discuss human rights and challenges to free expression around the world.

The event was founded in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks to form and expand relationships between the United States and the rest of the world. It is the only international literary festival in the US and the only one in the world that has a human-rights focus.

This year, the themes of the week-long event are the relationship between gender and power, and the fight against bigotry and isolationism.

It will be attended by award-winning writers such as Nigerian Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Russian-born Masha Gessen and Jamaican Marlon James.

When: Tomorrow to Sunday



At the beginning of the wet season, villages across Laos celebrate Boun Bang Fai, or Rocket Festival, to honour the coming rains and pray for a good harvest.

Dances, parties and parades are held, culminating in a display of homemade fireworks.

Groups gather in nearby fields where women sing, dance and wear elaborate masks, and men dress as women and fire rockets into the air. The display is meant to anger the gods, causing them to respond with thunderstorms and rain.

Competitions are held for the most entertaining group and the best decorated and highest flying rockets.

For safety reasons, the festival is celebrated in the outskirts of the capital city of Vientiane, most famously in the surrounding villages of Nason, Natham and Pakhanhoung.

Rocket Festival is also celebrated in north-east Thailand, which is home to a large ethnic Lao population.

When: May 10



Across the Atlas Mountains, about 300km east of Marrakesh, the village of Kelaat M'Gouna sits near the Asif M'Goun river in the Valley of Roses.

For 30km around the town, fields of fruit trees, wheat and livestock are surrounded by row after row of wild Damask rose trees. From mid-April to the end of May, the trees are in bloom and the valley is carpeted in the pink Persian flowers. Villagers transform the petals into potpourri, rose oil and rose water, which are used in fragrances, beauty products and Morocco's traditional cuisine.

To celebrate this cash crop, a three-day Rose Festival is held over the second weekend in May.

About 20,000 locals and tourists converge on the town to enjoy performances, beauty pageants, processions and handicraft markets peddling rose products such as creams, oils and soaps.

When: May 12 to 14



According to Catholic legend, this town in the Rhone River delta, a 11/2-hour drive west of Marseilles, is where the three Marys, mothers of Jesus' apostles, washed up in their rickety boat after their exile from Palestine.

The name of the town means Saint Marys of the Sea and the faithful have been making pilgrimages here every May since the Middle Ages.

In the 19th century, gypsies from all over Europe started going there too. They make the journey for their patron saint Sara la Kali, or Black Sara, who has become a part of the Saint Marys legend. In some versions, Sara la Kali was the servant of one of the Marys, and in others, she was their first convert to Christianity when they arrived on shore.

Whatever the story, and despite the fact that she is not officially canonised, the gypsies have claimed Sara as their own. Thousands of them gather every year to venerate her doll-like statue kept in the local Catholic church.

Once a year, the statue of Sara and statues of two of the Marys, Marie-Jacobe and Marie-Salome, are paraded through the town's streets and dipped in the Mediterranean Sea.

For friends and families of the gypsies, it is an opportunity for them to reunite and celebrate.

Children are baptised, marriages are arranged and colourful parties full of music and dancing are held around the gypsies' caravans that are parked around town and along the shore for up to 10 days.

When: May 24 and 25


Lydia Vasko

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 30, 2017, with the headline 'Agenda Calendar of festivals'. Print Edition | Subscribe