Up in the Air: 5 Kite Festivals Around the World

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In Guatemala, kites are used to communicate with the deceased on All Saints’ Day. Photo: loca4motion/Shutterstock.com

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Kite-flying isn’t just for kids. Families around north and western India throng terraces, rooftops, and maidans on January 14 for Makar Sankranti, to welcome the onset of spring with soaring kites. Guatemalans connect with their deceased relatives via kite strings on All Saints’ Day on November 1. Almost all of us have spent a few moments tugging against the wind to hoist a kite or swipe a neighbour’s string, but kite-flying is also a serious hobby. Across the world, kite enthusiasts toil over innovative designs to create spectacular visions in the sky that are only rivalled by the imagination. With Makar Sankranti around the corner, we’re turning the spotlight on kite festivals around the world that are worth travelling for. Join in the fun, but remember that kite-flying can be injurious to birds, even humans who get entangled in the string, so use cotton thread instead of the abrasive manja that is coated with powdered glass, pick open grounds, and remove any kite strings that are caught in trees.

Sumpango, Guatemala

All Saints’ Day or Dia de Todos Santos (on November 1) is a colourful affair in the Guatemalan town of Sumpango. Locals use gigantic kites in riotous colours as vehicles to connect with their deceased relatives, and pay their respects. The kites are only made of natural materials like rice paper and bamboo, and can stretch up to 20m in diameter. According to tradition, deceased spirits are able to identify their living family members by the designs and colours of each kite, and are believed to communicate with them via the kite’s thread. The kites are first put on display before being hoisted into the sky. At the end of the day, they are burned near cemeteries, allowing the dead to return to their resting places. If the kites don’t burn, locals say that the spirit isn’t ready to return to the afterlife. There is no mourning; rather the community celebrates the departed with music, processions and church services.

When Wed November 1, 2017

Ahmedabad, India

Ahmedabad kites

Ahmedabad’s International Kite Festival has been a tourist favourite for many years. Photo courtesy Gujarat Tourism

Come Uttarayan, Gujarat’s skies are a mosaic of kites, big and small, traditional and fantastical, all fighting for space. This is one of the state’s major holidays, and while kites are flown across Gujarat, the highlight of the event is the International Kite Festival held at the riverfront in Ahmedabad. Since 1989, expert kite makers and flyers have been flocking to the city to show off their creations every January and cut competing kites out of the sky. You can spend hours gazing up at gigantic whales float past box kites and Chinese flying dragons, while munching on delicious Gujarati snacks—just our kind of day.

When Sun January 8-Sat January 14, 2017

England kites

Kite enthusiasts flock to Portsmouth to compete with the best. Photo: Bill/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Portsmouth, England

The city of Portsmouth (1.5hr from London) hosts one of the world’s biggest kite parties: the Unbeatable Car Portsmouth International Kite Festival. For two days, ferocious dragons, larger-than-life superheroes, even giant ducks dot the city’s skyline at Southsea Common, with the Isle of Wight in the background. Workshops, stalls, and children’s activities are part of the celebrations.

When: August. Dates to be announced.

Bali, Indonesia

The annual Bali Kite Festival started out as a ritual—kites were used to carry prayers heavenwards for a good harvest. But over the years, the event has evolved into a thriving competition that draws locals from around the Indonesian island every July. Kite designs are usually based on one of three traditional motifs: the bebean (fish), janggan (bird) or pecukan (leaves). Often, a colour combination will also be picked, such as black, white and red. These massive kites, which can go up to 10m in length, understandably require teams to hold them aloft. Prizes are given for the design, the ability to launch a kite, and how long it flies in the sky. Adding a touch of local flavour are musical bands that accompany each team and play throughout the event on Sanur Beach.

Sydney Kites

Workshops and wacky kites at the Festival of the Winds. Photo: Eva Rinaldi/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

When: Between July and August. Dates to be announced.

Sydney, Australia

Sydney’s Festival of the Winds, held on the beautiful Bondi Beach, makes for a great family outing. Every September, kite enthusiasts gather to show off their dazzling creations. Want to join in the fun but don’t have a kite? There are often workshops at the event that help you make your own. Food stalls, puppet shows, and a kite parade ensure a great day at the beach. At the Festival of Winds, unlike the other events, there is no element of competition.

When: September. Dates to be announced.

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