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Editor's Note - Festivals here and abroad

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By Tom McDonald

In honor of the fiestas that grace our landscape, last year at about this time I wrote a column about some of the festivals I’ve experienced up close and personally.

There’s Toad Suck Daze in my old hometown of Conway, Ark. It’s named after an area along the banks of the Arkansas River where, legend has it, people used to go to suck on bottles of booze “until they swelled up like toads,” giving Conway a novel name for its festival that, actually, has nothing to do with Toad Suck but has drawn national attention anyway.

I also told you about the Sorghum Festival in Springfield, Ky., which had previously been the Tobacco Festival in honor of the area’s most prominent cash crop until the anti-smoking movement pushed tobacco farming overseas. Another Central Kentucky industry, bourbon making, still has its festival just up the road in Bardstown, so Springfield went with another agricultural product, not so much to honor sorghum but to keep alive its annual festival, which is all quite fun.

It seems people just need an excuse to hold festivals. And often times it says a lot about the surrounding culture.

A quick search on the Internet turns up some interesting festivals. I found a list of “10 Awesome Festivals Around the World” at gooverseas.com, a site for people who want to study, teach, intern or volunteer abroad, and found an interesting line-up of festivals around the world, including one that’s hard to imagine around here — the “world’s biggest water fight” in Thailand. But with annual precipitation that’s three times greater than Las Vegas’, I guess conservation isn’t as important to them.

Then there’s the Fest de São Joã in Porto, Portugal, to celebrate the midsummer solstice; and one that’s closer to home, The Burning Man Festival in Black Rock Desert, Nev.

I also located a disturbing list when I searched for “unusual festivals” and found out about Greek festivals that honor phallus symbols, a baby-jumping festival in Spain, a naked festival in Japan and a live fish-swallowing festival in Belgium.

It all makes our Las Vegas festivals seem kind of dull now, doesn’t it?

Still, I love our fiestas. Admittedly, when my daughter was part of the dance team led by Tonita Gurule-Giron, I visited many more area fiestas than I do now, but I still make it a point to go to the Las Vegas Fiestas at least one day each year, to take in the atmosphere, eat some festival food like a funnel cake and listen to some lively music while sitting in a lawn chair socializing with familiar passersby.

Plaza Park gets crowded, and I’m not really a fan of such settings, but the atmosphere is so laid back and relaxed that it makes it all bearable, even enjoyable. The vendors are busy but the lines are not so long. And the music is from the heart and soul of its creators, while the dancers bring the music to life.

All over the world, communities build festivals that create traditions. But here, it seems that traditions built the fiestas — they’re woven into the cultural fabric of the region. And no matter where you’re from, that’s a great way to celebrate.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Las Vegas Optic. He may be reached at tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.