Tonight in Oaxaca, Mexico, folks will be celebrating the Noche de Rábanos, the Night of the Radishes, and the zócalo (public square) will become the scene of a huge exhibition of figures carved from radishes. These are not the familiar little round vegetables that are eaten in salads — these are heavy, long, contorted roots that grow up to two feet in length and can weigh as much as 10 pounds. For three days, artists will have been transforming their freshly dug radishes into religious tableaux and village scenes, historical events and mythical tales. There will be animals and saints and conquistadors, the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus, and even the revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata.
The origin of this festival is unknown, although historians have noted that vendors in the Christmas Eve markets in Oaxaca would decorate their stands with radish figures embellished with other vegetables and that housewives would seek out the most interesting to buy for their Christmas tables. In 1897, the mayor of Oaxaca inaugurated the first official Night of the Radishes, and it has since become a unique and important part of Christmas in that city.