Don’t play with your food - Noche de Rábanos (The Night of the Radishes)

Night of the Radishes

Photo by Drew Leavy — Creative Commons License Some Rights Reserved

The Night of the Radishes originated as a response to the age-old challenge of strategic positioning. How could a 17th century farmer make his produce stand out from the other vegetable carts in a crowded market? By fashioning whimsical figures out of giant radishes, that’s how!

Radishes became part of Mexico’s horticultural landscape when the Spanish brought them to the lowlands in the 16th century. Mexican legend tells of two Spanish friars who showed villagers how to plant and cultivate produce along the Atoyac river. By the 17th century, market vendors began to carve radishes into religious shapes and figures in order to entice Mexican housewives to patronize their stand. In 1897, the mayor of Oaxaca, Francisco Vasconcelos Flores, formally recognized the tradition of Christmas-themed carvings and inaugurated the very first Noche de Rábanos.

A focal point of the holiday celebrations, the Night of the Radishes takes place every year on December 23rd in the zócalo, or market square. Contestants begin setting up their displays in the mid-afternoon while spectators wait excitedly in surrounding cafes.

The radishes used for the festival have little in common with the bulbous bouquets you find at the market. Heavily fertilized and thick skinned, they can grow as large as two feet high and weigh as much as ten pounds. The ornate designs replicate animals, patron saints and grandiose scenes such as the nativity or the Guelaguetza, a celebrated Oaxacan festival in which gifts are offered to the Gods in exchange for a bountiful harvest.

In addition to radish sculptures, contestants can compete in two other categories using flor inmortal (dried flowers) or totomoxtle (corn husks). Once night falls, villagers and tourists spend most of the evening passing slowly in front of the elaborate designs while children run about distributing confetti from hollowed-out egg shells. A colorful fireworks display signals the end of the festival as well as the judge’s decision. The winning artist takes home $13,000 pesos ($1,300 USD) for the most ingenious radish design.

Oaxaca is well known as a major destination for passionate and colorful festivals, many of which are native to the region. For more information about festivals in Oaxaca, click here.

- Courtney Maum

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2 Responses to “Don’t play with your food - Noche de Rábanos (The Night of the Radishes)”

  1. Rosemarie
    December 19th, 2008 12:30

    I’d like to invite you to have a look on a funny home-made decoration - the radish mouse on cold spread.

    Best regards from Germany

  2. Courtney Maum
    December 22nd, 2008 04:36

    Thanks for the picture, Rosemarie! Very, very cute!
    Thanks for checking out my column- tell your friends about it! If you have any tips on great food festivals in Germany, let me know! Happy Holidays.

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