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During the 19th century, competition grew tough in the markets of Oaxaca. There were too many vegetables and not enough shoppers, and traders were forced to seek new ways to attract passing trade to their stands. At some point, several stallholders began carving their vegetables into shapes, figures, even tableaux. This novel marketing method proved so successful that, on 23 December 1897, a exhibition was staged to celebrate the artistry of these quietly creative paisanos. More than a century later, the tradition continues as La Noche de Rábanos – literally, the Night of Radishes.

Every year, two days before Christmas, Oaxaca’s main square is taken over by dozens of market gardeners, each of whom is allocated a table on which to present their creations. (The staging of this year’s event required careful negotiation with protesting teachers, who had been occupying the square for several weeks. Many were persuaded to pack up their tents, though a number were allowed to remain camped out in the middle.) Most displays are carved from radishes cultivated especially for such purposes; they can top half a metre in length, and some weigh as much as 3kg.

The tableaux on show generally take a religious theme (nativities, mostly), though the Rábano Libre category permits a little more creative freedom. Cash prizes are awarded for what a panel of judges deems the best displays. The event draws colossal crowds to the square, with lines stretching for several blocks at the busiest times of the evening. Most visitors regard the displays with awe and veneration.

A combination of circumstances (poor lighting, four-deep crowds, our own incompetence as photographers) means that our pictures don’t quite capture the majesty of what Wikipedia describes as ‘one of the most impressive vegetable festivals around the world‘. However, we hope they give you the general idea.

 


 

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A nativity.

 


 

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Three Four wise men.

 


 

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Radish shepherds tending their flocks of – yes! – cauliflower sheep.

 


 

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We think this is Emiliano Zapata, one of the leading lights in the Mexican Revolution of a century ago.

 


 

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Two anteaters (?) getting smashed on mezcal.

 


 

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The devil and the archangel Gabriel. (We think the devil is on the right.) Sadly, we weren’t close enough to catch the imploring words of the gentleman in the red shirt.

 


 

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The Day of the Dead.

 


 

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We’re not sure what this is meant to represent, but it’s quite spectacular.

from Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Mexico