14 UNESCO World Traditions to Experience in 2019

14 UNESCO World Traditions to Experience in 2019

Every December since 2008, members of UNESCO’s cultural committee meet to decide which of the world’s cultural traditions will be honored for the previous year. This year, 31 traditions were recognized by UNESCO, and 14 of them are in MIR’s destinations.

These traditions are components of a collection that UNESCO calls the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. This heritage can include artistic, culinary, musical, celebratory, artisanal, or performance practices ­— any tradition that is so highly valued by a group of humans that its survival is considered important.

Learn more about the 31 new elements inscribed on UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2018.


Resist Block-printing & Indigo-dyeing (Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia)

Blaudruck, also known as kekfestes or modrotlac, refers to a traditional Central European process of resist-dyeing that produces lovely white patterns across a beautiful indigo backdrop. Literally translated as “blue-printing,” the technique is thought to have originated in Germany during the 17th century, eventually spreading to Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia.

Today, the art survives in only a handful of family-owned workshops in Europe, some of which are seven generations old and still use traditional tools and methods. Artisans first stamp the fabric with a dye-resistant paste, using hand-carved wooden blocks to form traditional floral or religious patterns. The cloth is then soaked in indigo dye and left to dry before the paste is rubbed off, revealing the white pattern underneath.

Travel Suggestions

You can browse for these bold, beautiful indigo textiles on MIR’s Essential Central Europe private independent itinerary, or on a custom private journey to Central Europe, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Epic Culture, Folk Tales & Music of Korkyt Ata/Dede Qorqud (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkey)
Kazakh musical performance. Photo: Michel Behar

Kazakh musical performance
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Korkyt Ata, also known as Dede Qorqud (or Korkut), was a mythical hero and wiseman among the Oghuz, an early Turkic people who once lived on the steppes of Central Asia and Mongolia, as well as in parts of the Caucasus and the Persian Gulf. Passed down by word of mouth for centuries, the myths and songs of this legendary figure were never formally collected and written down until the 16th century.

Today, 12 literary epics and 13 musical tales about this beloved hero have managed to survive, and continue to be taught to younger generations as a means of communicating the social, cultural, and moral values of their ancestors. Performances of these epic tales are often given at festivals in Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkey, and are accompanied by a traditional two-stringed instrument known as the kobyz.

Travel Suggestions

MIR’s many small group tours to Kazakhstan and Central Asia feature a traditional Kazakh music performance, which may include selections from the Epic of Korkyt Ata. You can also add a performance to MIR’s Essential Kazakhstan private independent itinerary, or design a custom private journey to Kazakhstan, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Budslau Fest (Belarus)
A traditional church steeple in Belarus. Photo credit: Volya Dzemka

A painting of Christ on a Belarusian church steeple
Photo credit: Volya Dzemka

Located some 75 miles outside of Minsk, the Belorussian village of Budslau is home to an annual religious celebration called Budslau Fest, which honors the sacred icon of the Mother of God, said to have first appeared to believers here in 1588. Held on the first weekend of July every year since the 17th century, the annual event is attended by tens of thousands of pilgrims from all over Belarus and in neighboring countries.

Pilgrims spend hours praying to the Virgin Mary and going to special church Masses, and participate in a candlelit night procession displaying the village’s icon. The locals in Budslau are proud of their village’s relic, and show a warm welcome to the throngs of people visiting each year, inviting them into their homes for family meals and showing them crafts and customs unique to the village.

Travel Suggestions

You can soak up the celebratory spirit of Budslau Fest on a custom private journey to Belarus, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Christmas Crèche Exhibition in Krakow (Poland)
Krakow, Poland Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Bureau

Colorful Christmas crèches displayed in the main market square in Krakow, Poland
Photo credit: Polish National Tourist Board

For more than 70 years, Krakovians have entered their elaborate and fanciful handmade Christmas crèches in the annual Christmas crèche competition, held in Krakow’s main market square on the first Thursday of December.

People of all ages and skill levels can enter, and the simple Nativity scenes in the three- to four-year-old category are often the most touching of all. Winners are picked in each age group, and the crèches are then exhibited in the Historical Museum of Krakow on the main square.

Travel Suggestions

You can discover the many heartfelt holiday traditions of Poland on MIR’s festive small group tour Christmas Traditions of Poland. Or, travel to Poland any time of the year with our Essential Poland private independent itinerary, or on a custom private journey handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Yalli Dances (Azerbaijan)
Traditional dancing in Baku, Azerbaijan

A traditional yalli dance in Baku, Azerbaijan
Photo credit: Devin Connolly

Unique folk dances known as yalli have been practiced in Azerbaijan for centuries, particularly in Nakhchivan, an exclave bordering both Armenia and the Anatolian region of Turkey. Traditionally performed during weddings and special occasions, these celebratory dances were meant to foster a sense of community among members of an individual village.

Yalli troupes are made up of both men and women, though sometimes can be just men or women only. The performances are typically accompanied by music played on the zurna (a wind instrument similar to an oboe) and davul (a large double-headed drum), with a vocalist leading the group in song. As music plays, the dancers form a line or circle, interlocking arms, hands, or pinkie fingers, and create rhythmic, repeating, and often improvised footwork to the beat.

Travel Suggestions

MIR’s Treasures of the South Caucasus and Village Traditions of the South Caucasus small group tours include a performance of Azeri music and dance, which may feature yalli folk dances. You can also add a dance performance to our Essential Azerbaijan private independent itinerary, or craft a custom private journey handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Epic Folk Singing to the Accompaniment of the Gusle (Serbia)

A gusle is a traditional one- or two-stringed instrument commonly played by Slavic peoples in Serbia, as well as in Bosnia, Croatia, Romania, and other communities in the Balkan region. The masters of this lute-like instrument are called guslari, and they typically act as epic performers singing long narrative tales while they bow on the gusle.

A guslar’s musical repertoire can cover a wide range of themes, predominantly describing historical events, the deeds of legendary heroes, and tales from local mythology, in addition to ballads and humorous songs. The tradition dates back to at least the 8th century, and most songs were passed down orally with each successive generation.

Travel Suggestions

You can celebrate Serbia’s cultural and artistic heritage on a custom private journey to Serbia and the Balkans, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Chakan Embroidery Arts (Tajikistan)

Chakan is a unique style of Tajik embroidery that involves sewing symbolic, naturally inspired patterns onto colorful cotton or silk fabrics. Generally practiced by women and girls across every corner of the country, chakan utilizes needlepoint techniques that were passed down from mother to daughter over centuries.

Today, this form of embroidery is still used to decorate handmade clothing and household goods, including headscarves, pillows, tunics, and even men’s skullcaps. The patterns are creative and varied, and usually feature floral or mythological imagery in their design.

Travel Suggestions

MIR’s Pamir Highway: Across Fabled Frontiers and From the Heavenly Tien Shan to the High Pamirs small group tours both include a visit to a Tajik handicrafts center, where travelers might find locally produced, handcrafted chakan embroidery. You can also meet with a master chakan artisan in her workshop on a custom private journey to Tajikistan, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


The Art of Dry Stone Walling (Croatia, Slovenia)

Long before cement mortar was widely and easily available, many structures were built by carefully stacking stones on top of one another. The method, known as dry stone walling, is an ancient art dating back to Neolithic times, and is still predominantly used by pastoralist communities throughout Western Europe and the Mediterranean, particularly in Croatia and Slovenia.

Farmers and shepherds in these countries use dry stone techniques to construct boundary fences for their animals, as well as retaining walls for crops and low-growing vineyards. Dry walling has also been used to make small stone shepherd’s huts called kazun, which offer protection from sudden storms and wind gusts.

Travel Suggestions

You can spot this resourceful building technique in monuments both age-old and modern — from family vineyards along the Dalmatian Coast to the UNESCO-listed ruins of Stari Grad on Hvar Island — on a custom private journey to Croatia, Slovenia, and the Balkans, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Bobbin Lacemaking (Slovenia)
Bobbin lacemaking, Slovenia. Photo credit: Jani Peternelj

Bobbin lacemaking, Slovenia. Photo credit: Jani Peternelj

Lacemaking has been a Slovenian tradition for more than 300 years. Passed down through the centuries by grandmothers to their grandchildren, this delicate craft is made by weaving thin cotton threads into dozens of uniquely intricate creations, and is used to fashion everything from scarves and shawls to tablecloths and book covers.

Slovenian lacemakers follow a very specific process, first drawing their pattern on a thin piece of paper and attaching it to a pillow or wooden base before weaving. The thread is wound on bobbins, which are skillfully crossed and twisted to develop beautiful banded shapes and complex designs.

Travel Suggestions

You can look for lovely Slovenian lace crafts on a custom private journey to Slovenia, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Chidaoba Wrestling (Georgia)

Chidaoba is a traditional Georgian martial art that boys can begin to practice when they are as young as eight. It’s an acrobatic combination of wrestling, music, and dance, and usually takes place in an open-air arena, with large audiences in attendance.

This unique form of hand-to-hand combat utilizes almost 200 different wrestling holds and counterholds, which can be used in any combination to throw off an opponent. Chidaoba matches are accompanied by vibrant Georgian folk music, which wrestlers might creatively time their movements to.

Travel Suggestions

You can check out a chidaoba wrestling match on a hand-crafted custom private journey to Georgia, customized to your interests, pace, and dates.


Tibetan Medicinal Bath Therapy (Tibet, China)

Bathing in natural hot springs, herbal water, or steam baths has been an essential component of traditional Tibetan medicine for well over a thousand years. The practice, called, dhutse-ngalum, or medicinal bath therapy, has roots in Tibetan Buddhism, and is believed to play an important role in rebalancing the body and mind.

Beyond its more religious significance, medicinal bath therapy has in recent years been used to complement more modern, Western-style clinical practices in the region. Local doctors and pharmacists often prescribe baths to their patients to help treat and prevent a wide range of illnesses, from depression and insomnia to chronic muscular diseases.

Travel Suggestions

Take in the remarkable traditions of Tibet on MIR’s China’s Silk Road & Tibet: Route of Monks & Merchants small group tour. You can also design a custom private journey to Western China or Tibet, hand-crafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates.


Medimurska Popevka Folk Singing (Croatia)
Vocal music concert, Trogir, Croatia. Photo: Martin Klimenta

An intimate vocal music performance in Croatia
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Medimurska popevka is a traditional style of folk singing specific to the Medimurje region of Croatia, which is located in the northernmost part of the country and borders both Slovenia and Hungary. Sung in the local Kajkavian dialect, this particular musical genre has historically been performed by female soloists, though larger ensembles of both women and men are not uncommon today.

The songs are often sung in a pentatonic chord scale, and touch upon various everyday themes of love, loss, humor, and religious devotion. Today, popevkas still play an integral role in festivals, community events, and religious celebrations in the little towns and villages throughout the Medimurje region.

Travel Suggestions

Marvel at the musical stylings of the medimurska popevka on a custom private journey to Croatia, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates. You can also add a traditional performance to our Essential Balkans private independent itinerary, or explore the rich musical heritage of the other Balkan nations on MIR’s Balkan Odyssey: Crossroads of Cultures small group tour.

Traditional Methods of Harvesting Iva Grass (Bosnia and Herzegovina)
Lukomir Village, Bosnia. Photo: BH Tourism

A traditional Bosnian village hidden in the hillsides near Ozren Mountain
Photo credit: BH Tourism

In Bosnia and Herzegovina, September 11 marks the anniversary of the beheading of St. John the Baptist, and Orthodox Christians throughout the country take the day to celebrate and pay their respects to this important saint. In villages around Ozren Mountain in the north, one of the most significant customs of the holiday involves heading up to the mountains to harvest a local plant called iva grass.

Iva grass (Teucrium montanum, or mountain germander) is a shrub that grows well in rocky, cold climates, and for centuries has been used in local folk medicine to treat digestive and respiratory ailments. Villagers today still harvest the plant by hand, using the flowers and leaves to create herbal teas, brandy infusions, and medicinal honey syrups.  

Travel Suggestions

Visit Bosnian villages and learn more about their traditional customs and festivities on a custom private journey to Bosnia and Herzegovina, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates. Or, introduce yourself to the history and heritage of Bosnia and Herzegovina on MIR’s Balkan Odyssey: Crossroads of Cultures small group tour, or on our Essential Balkans private independent itinerary.


Traditional Festive Spring Rites of Kazakh Horse Breeders (Kazakhstan)
Kazakh nomad. Photo: Michel Behar

A Kazakh nomad on the steppe
Photo credit: Michel Behar

Horses have long been an essential part of everyday life for shepherds and horse-breeders living on the Kazakh steppe. The knowledge and skills that these resourceful individuals learned from their nomadic ancestors continue to live on with the observance of special rites undertaken by Kazakh farmers each spring, when a new horse breeding cycle begins.

The practice today involves three main rites: biye baylau, when mares and foals are separated from the herd so that the mares can be milked; ayghyr kosu, when stallions are introduced to the herd; and kymyz muryndyk, the “first sharing” of a traditional fermented mare’s milk drink called koumiss, which marks the official opening of the dairy production season. The observance of such rites is slowly dying in Kazakhstan, as modern nomadic shepherds have been forced to transition into a more sedentary way of life.

Travel Suggestions

You can experience Kazakhstan’s colorful nomadic traditions and culture on a custom private journey to Kazakhstan, handcrafted to fit your interests, pace, and dates. Or, see the country in full springtime splendor on an April or May departure of MIR’s popular Journey Through Central Asia: The Five ‘Stans small group tour.


Celebrate the Cultures of the World with MIR
Zvoncari festival, Kastav, Croatia. Photo: Croatian National Tourist Board

A traditional cultural festival in Kastav, Croatia
Photo credit: Croatian National Tourist Board

Intangible Cultural Heritage, described by UNESCO as “traditions or living expressions inherited from our ancestors and passed on to our descendants,” is an important gift that the world gives travelers, free of charge, in return for attention, appreciation, and safeguarding.

Join MIR in celebrating the world’s creativity and diversity this year. More than 30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map. Or chat with our Private Journeys department to have a trip handcrafted to your interests, pace, and budget.

Contact MIR today at info@mircorp.com or 1-800-424-7289.

Top photo: Sitting in on a traditional Kazakh music performance in a yurt. Photo credit: Michel Behar.



PUBLISHED: January 8, 2019

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