Festival of Light
I thought I’d go for a touch of irony and drain the colour from my photos of Trafalgar Square’s Diwali celebrations, what with the event being known as the “Festival of Light”. In reality, the big stage where live music was being played was well-rigged with colourful lights.
Diwali in Trafalgar Square
The spire of St Martin-in-the-Fields looms over thousands celebrating Diwali in Trafalgar Square, London.
Yesterday, London celebrated Diwali and I was there for a short period to enjoy the spectacle.
Trafalgar Square was once again the location for the festivities. This is the forth cultural event I’ve attended in Trafalgar Square (the others being Chinese New Year, Malaysia Night and the Maslenitsa). As usual, music and dance took centre stage (quite literally) accompanied by food and trade stalls.
My day was rather rushed so I couldn’t stay very long. I had already eaten as well, so I could only look on forlornly as hungry revellers queued patiently for “100% Vegetarian” food to be shovelled into their lunch boxes. In the centre of the square, hundreds of people danced and swirled in a traditional “Garba” fashion as Bali and Angrez played live music on stage. It didn’t matter if you were young or old, Hindu or not, everyone (including Police officers) was joining in. The atmosphere was very infectious and was by far the most cheerful Trafalgar Square-based celebration I’ve encountered.
Celebrating the end of Winter the Russian way in London’s Trafalgar Square.
Winter in Russia and its neighbouring countries is a cold, long, drawn-out affair. Temperatures typically struggle at around the minus 10 to 20 mark for a good three to four months. No amount of big, fluffy siberian hats can help keep the chill at bay. So naturally, once March arrives, Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians are keen to celebrate the arrival of the sun. They do this in the form of a Maslenitsa, an annual folk and religious festival where dreadful music is played and danced to and pancakes and dumplings are consumed.
This weekend, London’s Trafalgar Square played host to its own version of the Maslenitsa and I was one of the thousands that turned up.
At the centre of the celebrations was the effigy of Kostroma, a slavic fertility goddess. Revering her and dancing around her straw-filled being is said to improve soil fertility in the spring. She was at the centre of the first performance on the big stage.
Boss-eyed Bear was also present, though his relevance to the Maslenitsa was unknown. The crowds loved him though, especially when he strutted his stuff to the sounds of “popular folk group” Balagan Limited (our favourite Balagan Limited track is on YouTube).
There were plenty of ways to part with your cash. One stall was flogging Russian satellite tv while almost all the others sold Russian souvenirs and tat. The dolls were proving to be particularly popular.
Of course, no festival is complete without traditional food to try. And no blog post on Here To Geneva is complete without photos of said traditional food. So, here’s what I had;
To start, I had a savoury blini, a crispy deep-fried pancake filled with undisclosed meat. It was tasty, though rather greasy. Those in the UK familiar with Findus crispy pancakes will find them instantly recognisable.
Following that, a steaming cup of Borsch. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting. I’ve had Borsch in the past and it was purple and beetrooty. This though was red and oniony. I’ve since read that there are several varieties of Borsch where the amount of beetroot varies. This variety was heavy on the tomato and onion. It was like watery pasta sauce.
To finish, Pelmeni. These with like little meat-filled tortellini, though the dough was deep-fried and crispy. On top, a squirt of sour sauce that added little to the experience.
In all, it was nice to experience Russian culture for the first time, though whether it’s encouraged me to visit Russia in the future remains to be seen. If I’m promised Boss-eyed bear will show me round, you can book me a room right now.
Russians Take Trafalgar Square
London’s Russian community celebrates the beginning of the end of Winter at the annual Maslenitsa festival in Trafalgar Square
In case you haven’t seen them, here are a few shots from London’s Chinese New Year celebrations that I took a couple of weeks ago. It was probably a bit too busy, but it was still a good day out. Photos, as always, can be found on Flickr.