This 100-Year-Old Mexican Christmas Tradition Involves Carving Giant Radishes

Oaxaca, Mexico is the only place you'll find this unique radish carving competition. (Photo: AlejandroLinaresGarcia/Wikimedia Commons)

The city of Oaxaca, Mexico, has a creative way to bring attention to the harvest, particularly the cherished radish crop. Dating back to 1897, market vendors would carve the vegetables into various figures to make their radishes look more appealing. The mayor created a festival around the carvings — La Noche de Rábanos, or Night of the Radishes.

The festival, held each year on Dec. 23, is now a Christmas tradition in the city, drawing huge crowds of locals and visitors. Radish sculptors compete for a prize with their masterpieces carved from radishes that can be as long as a foot and a half and weight 7 pounds.

Those are some big radishes, and they're grown to be larger than regular radishes, according to BBC Travel. Unlike the radishes in the late 1800s that were carved to entice shoppers to buy and eat them, the current larger-than-normal radishes aren't eaten because they're treated with chemicals to encourage growth. People do buy them, however, and use them for centerpieces for Christmas dinner.

night of radishes, sculpture
During La Noche de Rábanos, artisans turn large radishes into sculptures to compete for the grand price during the holiday festival. (Photo: Drew Leavy/Flickr)

MexConnect reports the grand prize for radish carved into art is 15,000 pesos (about $745), but there are several categories for radish artists to enter, including categories for children. In addition to the radish sculptures, there are works of art created from corn husks and dried flower art.

dried flower art
Dried flower art is another part of the festivities during the Night of the Radishes. (Photo: Drew Leavy/Flickr)

By 4 p.m., the works of art are displayed in the market, and festival-goers are lined up to take a peak at the sculptures. The line can get long — sometimes taking four or five hours to get through. While waiting, many people snack on buñuelos (fried dough balls coated with syrup) and esquites (corn in a light cream, chili pepper and cheese sauce). The winners are announced at 9 p.m., and the evening continues with fireworks lighting the city and live music filling the air.

radiation marionette sculpture
Sculptors get creative with the radishes, turning them into all kinds of figures, like this marionette. (Photo: Drew Leavy/Flickr)