European Winter Festivals: Last Tango in Oulu

Posted in: Finland

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Tamborrada time. Photo by ardidulantzi

Not sure how it happened, but somehow we missed the Tango Festival in Oulu last week. Yes, we know what you are thinking. You never knew they are quite so keen on colgadas and volcadas up there in the frozen north. All those carousels must be decidedly tricky on icy ground.

If you associate the tango only with fiery-eyed passion and southern sun, think again. Finland is big on tango, and the Tango Festival in Oulu, a six-hour train ride north of Helsinki, is a January crowd-puller each year.

Winter frolics

Many major European festivals are spring and summer bashes, but scan the cultural calendar and you will find that January and February serve up a delicious range of festival frolics. In fact, last week also saw the chance to tango in Lviv in western Ukraine. A friend who was there reported that Lviv tango was more Argentinian than Finnish.

The world of Jazz

The start of the year is big for jazz in Europe and the Leidse Jazz Week is just getting underway at Leiden in the Netherlands. Real jazz aficionados can then head north from Leiden to Stavanger in Norway, with time to take in the Trad Jazz Festival (20 thru 23 January), before heading on to Polar Jazz at Longyearbyen on the Arctic archipelago of Svalbard (2 thru 6 February). Jazz at nearby eighty degrees north surely helps enliven the long, cold winter.

Local flavour

One of Europe’s foremost winter festivals is a noisy cultural extravangaza in the Basque town of San Sebastián where, on 20 January each year, the locals celebrate Tamborrada. For 24 hours, every street and every alley in this coastal town resounds to the sound of drums, as citizens mark the feast of their local patron saint, San Sebastián. Take your earplugs if you plan to drop in on Tamborrada next week.

It is an interesting event, essentially very local in flavour, just like Up Helly Aa in Shetland, which this year takes place on Tuesday 25 January. The Shetland show styles itself as Europe’s largest fire festival and its high point is the ceremonial burning of a replica Viking longship. If you are planning on taking in Up Helly Aa, set off soon for the islands are pretty remote. It is a seven hour train journey from London to Aberdeen from where the overnight ship to Shetland takes 12 to 15 hours.

About the author


About the authors: Nicky and Susanne manage a Berlin-based editorial bureau that supplies text and images to media across Europe. Together they edit hidden europe magazine.

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