Noche de Los Rábanos or The Night of the Radishes will be held on 23 December in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is an annual event dedicated to the carving of oversized radishes to create scenes that compete for prizes in various categories. The city of Oaxaca has a long wood carving tradition and farmers began carving radishes into figures as a way to attract customers’ attention at the Christmas market, which was held in the main square on December 23.
Radishes were introduced to Mexico by the Spanish, particularly by the friars. Legend said that one year in the mid 18th century, the radish crop was so abundant that a section lay unharvested for months. In December, two friars pulled up some of these forgotten radishes. The size and shapes were amusing and they brought them as curiosities to the Christmas market held on December 23. The misshapen vegetables attracted attention and soon they began to be carved to give them a wider variety of shapes and figures. In 1897, the then mayor of the city, Francisco Vasconcelos, decided to create a formal radish carving competition, which has been held each year since.
Originally the radishes used by competitors were those raised by local farmers, but as the city has grown, the municipal government has stepped in and allocated an area near El Tequio Park to radishes’ cultivation, specially grown for the event. The radishes are heavily fertilized, chemically treated and left in the ground long after normal harvests to allow them to reach monumental sizes and capricious shapes, which also makes then unsuitable for human consumption. The resulting vegetables can be up to fifty centimeters in length, ten centimeters or more wide and can weigh up to three kilos. The radish currently used for the event has a red skin and a white interior.
For the Night of the Radishes, contestants register months in advance. The actual carving and assembly of the entries occurs during the day of 23 December. There are several categories of participation. For adults, radish sculptures and scenes can be in the traditional or “free” category. Works in the traditional category are for depictions of nativity scenes and those of Oaxacan traditions. Common scenes are related to life in Oaxaca such as the Guelaguetza, posadas, calendas (a kind of traditional party), Day of the Dead, Danza de la Pluma, Pineapple Harvest Dance and the Chilena from the Costa Chica, Oaxacan history and folklore as well as the veneration of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Juquila and Our Lady of Solitude, the patron of the state.
Those in the free category generally depict more contemporary themes, such as non-Christmas Biblical stories. The most common elements are the people, animals, food and handcrafts of the state, but they can also include duendes (mischievous spirits inhabiting a house), snowmen, monsters and more. However, as the function of the event is to preserve tradition, the grand prize of 15,000 pesos is awarded to the winner of the traditional category.
The event also has categories for scenes made not from radishes but instead from dried corn husks (called totomoxtle) and those made with a dried flower called “flor inmortal” (inmortal flower) named such as it dries quickly and keeps most of its color.
The Night of the Radishes has become very popular, attracting over 100 contestants and thousands of visitors. However, since the radishes wilt soon after cutting, the works can only be displayed for a number of hours, which has led to very long lines for those wishing to see the works. Visitors are permitted to pass by the stands starting in the late afternoon, with judging and the awarding of prizes taking place at about 9pm, with the radish sculptures removed shortly after that.
If you are in Mexico on 23 December, make sure to head to Oaxaca to join the Night of the Radishes, the only radish carving contest in the world!
What about you? Have you seen the Night of the Radishes? Tell us!