The tale of the Night of the Radishes
Each year, the city of Oaxaca has an odd Christmas tradition centered on oversized radishes carved into unusual shapes. These aren’t the small round type often seen in US supermarkets. Though also red on the outside and white on the inside, these are enlonged monsters often in wild shapes.
Carving has a long history in Oaxaca, most traditionally in wood and creativity in this medium is still ongoing with one of the most recent innovations being “alebrijes” (example on right)
This carving tradition was transferred to radishes by the late 19th century, first by merchants to make curiousities to attract passers-by and then by customers to make centerpieces for holiday tables. Night of the Radishes began when there was a bumper crop of radishes, so much so that a field of the vegetable laid unharvested months past when they should have been. Then some monks decided to dig some of them up, they found huge sizes and capricious shapes. They were brought to the Christmas market on December 23 as curiousities. In 1897, then mayor of Oaxaca, Francisco Vasconcelos, decided to have a carving competition during the Christmas market, which has been held every year since.
The event draws huge crowds who come to see the wide variety of entries. Most of which center on traditional aspects of Oaxacan life such as posadas. the Guelaguetza, Day of the Dead and Our Lady of Juquila, but other themes have made their way into the carvings, such as snowmen, alebrijes and goblins. They have also had protest themes, such as demanding the return of the 43 students who disappeared in Guerrero state in 2013.
The radish carving are an ephemeral art, as the vegetables discolor and wilt shortly after they are carved. The entire event, from carving to display is only on the 23, ending at midnight when everything is taken down.
All photographs by Alejandro Linares Garcia