While carving ghoulish faces into bright orange pumpkins is a ubiquitous sign of the Halloween season, radish carving has been a popular Christmas tradition in Oaxaca, Mexico, for over a century. Noche de los rábanos, or Night of the Radishes, takes place on December 23 and it is the most anticipated Christmastime celebration in Oaxaca during the holidays.
This whimsical tradition began as a way for vendors to feature produce in a unique and ingenious way to make their stalls stand out and boost sales. Back in 1897, Oaxaca Governor Francisco Vasconcelos organized the very first exhibition of carved radishes after admiring the festooned stalls packed with intricate radish trinkets on the day before Christmas Eve.
Over time, the Night of the Radishes evolved into a competitive annual pre-Christmas festival where locals carve radishes into ephemeral works of art featuring traditional Nativity scenes, religious depictions, and everyday Oaxacan imagery. Even though radish carving is the most popular category, ornate scenes made from both totomoxtle (dried corn husks) and flor inmortal (preserved flowers) are featured in the festival as well.
The radishes used in la noche de los rábanos are grown three months prior to the festival and are grown solely for carving. Each radish will measure up to 1.5 feet long and will weight around 7 pounds, unlike other radish varieties. Once the colossal radishes are ready to be harvested, men, women, and even children gather in the fields to collect up to fourteen tons of radishes that will end up being part of the Christmas Radish Wonderland display in Oaxaca’s main square on December 23.
The radish carving tradition has carried on for over a century now and will continue as a popular Christmastime celebration in Oaxaca in the years to come. So, the next time you enjoy a traditional pozole topped with radish slices, remember that there is a little-known Christmas tradition where crimson-and-white carved radishes take over Oaxaca, Mexico!