Oaxaca, Mexico - During December in Oaxaca, Mexico, there are enough celebrations and festivities to fill a month's itinerary for even the most festival- and culture-thirsty travelers. But there is only one Festival of the Radishes, a wacky, creative display and contest of radishes-turned-artistry.

Where else can one witness nativity scenes, conquistadors, dancers, animals or even detailed historical scenes and mythological events carved out of giant, nature-defying radishes? Only in Oaxaca, where these specially grown radishes average seven pounds in weight, a foot-and-a-half in length and five inches in width.

Hosted by the Oaxaca City Hall, celebrated Mexican artisan and nearby villagers descend upon Oaxaca to display their intricate crafts for local villagers and thousands of world travelers, creating one of the country's most colorful and unique festivals. On December 23 & 24, visitors can stroll down Oaxaca's Zocalo (central plaza) to see ornate radish sculptures and designs, ranging from small animals and bullfights to large cathedrals and religious icons.

"Mexico is known for its colorful, grandiose festivals, but there are few more colorful and unique than the Festival of the Radishes," said Oscar Holm, Secretary of Tourism of the State of Oaxaca. "During this holiday season, we welcome our international friends to experience this one-of-a-kind combination of art and culture."

The Spanish first brought radishes to Mexico in the 16th-century. Early records indicate that the Dominican friars taught the Mixtec, Zapotec and Mexica Indians how to grow and maintain vegetable gardens. But it was a little more than a century ago when Francisco Vasconcelos Flores, the mayor of Oaxaca, organized the first horticulture exhibition, where people displayed the unique radish carvings, turning the famous pink and white radishes into works of art. The rest, as they say, is history, as the one-of-a-kind Festival of the Radishes now receives worldwide attention.

Nowadays, El Festival de los Rábanos features two days of celebrations, including: the prestigious vegetable-art contest and awards ceremony; a children's workshop; performances by the Oaxaca city choir; fireworks; dancing; piñata contests; and plenty of buñuelos, the festival's signature deep-fried, sugary tortillas.

Artists begin carving their entries as early as three days prior to the festival as they vie for cash prizes awarded to the best displays. They occasionally spray the radishes with water to maintain freshness.

Mexicana Airlines and Aeromexico service Oaxaca through Mexico City. Go With Jo Tours & Travel offers a 10-day motor coach trip to central Mexico that includes a day at the Festival of the Radishes in Oaxaca. Travelers fly to Southern Texas (pickups are in Brownsville, McAllen, Harlingen and Mission, Texas) and travel over the Sierra Madre Mountains via comfortable private motorcoach to San Luis Potosi. From there the tour continues to Queretaro, the opal center of Mexico, before passing through Puebla on the way to Oaxaca.

Once in Oaxaca, visitors will enjoy the rich history, fantastic shopping and delicious food that make the city one of Mexico's most important cultural towns. It is here that guests will experience the colorful Festival of the Radishes first-hand. The trip cost is $829 per person, plus the cost of the Mexican visa, and includes ground transportation, tours, accommodations and meals. For more information on this trip and others, visit www.gowithjo.com/oaxradishes.htm or call 1-800-999-1446. -
by Lucia Dunn, Mexico City correspondent.

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