Cultural festivals can be a great way to experience a small taste of culture without investing in costly plane tickets. However, there are a few downsides of cultural festivals that you should be aware of before planning your next adventure. Here are some of the pros and cons of attending a cultural festival and a few tips to help you get the most out of your experience.
The Benefits of Attending a Cultural Festival
I have a love-hate relationship with cultural festivals. While raising Mexican-American kids in the US, cultural events allow me to introduce my kids to their cultural heritage and people who share that heritage in our community. At the same time, I also notice attendees falling prey to the cons of cultural events and forgetting what the celebrations are about in the first place.
These 7 tips will help your family enjoy an enriching cultural experience without getting lost in the commercialism, or the crowd.
Benefit #1: It’s cheap or free.
Cultural festivals are a great way to immerse yourself in aspects of other cultures without needing to invest in a plane ticket, time off, visas, and pre-trip doctors appointments. You can most likely find one within your community. Many festivals are free to get in so the only costs you incur are possibly parking and any items you purchase at the festival.
Benefit #2: You get cultural immersion for a few hours.
If you want to learn about another culture but aren’t sure where to start, a cultural festival can be a great springboard for your education. You will likely see things that spark your curiosity or make you question things you thought you knew about the culture. Jot those experiences down on a piece of paper and get busy researching when you get home.
Benefit #3: Semi-Authentic Foods
Instead of having to scour the internet for an authentic restaurant, at a cultural event you will likely have dozens of authentic “restaurants” at your fingertips. Cultural celebrations offer a great opportunity to try a variety of authentic cuisine without having to do a ton of research to find the right place.
Keep in mind that the authenticity of the food may vary depending on the target market of the attendees. I have been to cultural events that were geared toward educating dominant culture as opposed to celebrating the culture itself. Some of the foods were “toned-down” you could say, to appeal to the bulk of the attendees.
Benefit #4: It’s a Family-Friendly Adventure.
One of the biggest benefits of cultural celebrations is that there is something for everyone. If your little ones aren’t ready for travel, or your not-so-little ones aren’t all that interested in travel, a cultural festival gives everyone a peek into another world without pushing them too far out of their comfort zone. There are generally events geared toward kids and others that cater to adults. With so much going on at once, you can easily find something of interest for everyone.
The Cons of Attending a Cultural Festival
Unfortunately, going to a cultural festival isn’t all roses and butterflies. There are definitely some downsides to keep in mind. Below each con, I list a few helpful tips to counteract it and still have the best possible experience.
Con #1: Crowds
Crowds can be overwhelming for anyone, no matter how old you are. Sometimes if you show up right at the beginning or near the end of an event you can beat the crowds and enjoy the experience a little more.
Warning: If you have a child who struggles with sensory overload, a cultural festival may not be the best choice for you. You could always watch a video of a cultural festival or read books about the culture instead.
To counteract the crowds, try these three tips:
Tip #1: Have a plan to stick together.
Talk with your family ahead of time to decide who will stay with who and what the boundaries are. (i.e. you must hold my hand at all times.) Have a plan in case you get separated and make sure someone in each group has a phone or another way to communicate so that you can easily regroup.
Tip #2: Know your route.
Look up several options for parking ahead of time so that you don’t waste valuable time driving around aimlessly. Make sure you write down where you parked and everyone knows how to get to the festival and back from the parking spot.
Tip #3: Communicate your expectations.
Talk with your family ahead of time about what each person would like to see, hear, or try. Instead of wandering aimlessly through the crowds, treat it more like a scavenger hunt, checking items off the items on your list. If there are specific musical groups or dances you’d like to see, check the schedule ahead of time so that you know when they will be performing.
Tip #4: Be flexible.
Life with kids never goes as planned. Be willing to abandon your agenda or split up in groups so that you can meet your children’s needs while still enjoying the festival and making sure everyone gets to see and do what they want.
Con #2: Commercialism
Although it is great to see all the local foods, goods, and toys of another culture at once, you can also easily get sucked into thinking that is what it’s all about- especially with little kids. These two tips will help you stay focused on the real goal- celebrating culture and uniting people.
Tip #1: Set a Budget
Before heading to the festival, choose an amount you are willing to spend at the festival. Take that amount out in cash, because many vendors won’t be able to take cards.
If your kids are old enough, set a budget for each person. Give them their money so that they can choose what they’d like to purchase. Set the expectations ahead of time and let them know that once they’ve spent all their money it is time to explore the other aspects of the festival instead.
Tip #2: Bring Snacks and Water
Obviously if you are at a cultural festival, you probably want to try the foods. However, it might not be the best idea to go in hungry without a drop of water on hand. (I don’t know about you but my family gets ‘hangry’ very quickly.)
Make sure everyone is well fed and well rested before you leave. Bring some small snacks along to avoid meltdowns. Since festivals are often outside in the sun, keep water handy so that everyone is hydrated. It is much easier to choose between a plethora of vendors or to wait in long lines for your favorite foods when you aren’t about ready to pass out from hunger or thirst.
Con #3: Out of Context
If you were traveling abroad and saw something you didn’t understand, you could probably ask a nearby local, tour guide, or fellow tourist to explain. At a cultural festival, there will still be plenty of people around you to ask but there is no gaurantee that they know the answer.
Cultural celebrations are kind of like museums. They display valuable bites and pieces of another culture but you don’t get the whole picture. Everything is out of context and that can feel confusing or overwhelming to those just learning. Try these two tips to help you fill in the blanks later:
Tip #1 : Bring a notebook and a camera.
Jot down the questions you have and take pictures of curious items you find. Once you get home, look up information to help you learn more.
Tip #2: Bring a friend from that culture.
If you have a friend who is from this new culture, ask him or her to come along as your guide. (This should be an actual friend that you already have a relationship with. Although people love sharing about their culture, they don’t want to be your project or be your sole teacher. Use books and build relationships before asking for favors.)
Your guide can explain the important aspects of culture that you can’t fit into a festival. Ultimately, culture is much more than just food, dances, and festivities. It is embedded in how we act, what we think, and who we are. Our cultural lenses impact literally everything we do.
Con # 4: It’s not the real thing…
This one is more for kids or families who are multicultural due to the makeup of their family as opposed to just by choice. A recreation of a cultural event will never be as good as the real thing. It can’t be.
It is impossible to bottle up the essence of culture and bring it to a festival. These events unite people, serve as cultural preservation and education but they can never replace the authentic version that you may have grown up with or experienced.
Often, we expect cultural festivals to give us a taste of home or to fill that home shaped hole in our hearts. When those expectations aren’t met, disappointment follows. Disappointment is a hard emotion to navigate.
If your adventure to a cultural celebration ends with tears instead of joy, know that it wasn’t a failure. Raising cross cultural kids is hard. You can never truly be “home”. A piece of you is always abroad.
Instead of deciding to swear off of cultural festivals for life, talk through the emotions, get to the root of them, and acknowledge how hard it is to be torn between to worlds while reminding your family what a gift it is to also belong to two worlds.
Overall, the pros and cons of a cultural festival are important to be aware of but they shouldn’t deter you from taking advantage of the opportunity to get a glimpse of another culture. If you come prepared, it can be a wonderful family adventure that will spark interest in other cultures and pave the way toward deeper understanding of another culture or even your own heritage culture.