Reno, a cultural melting pot since its beginnings in the 1850s, celebrates its varied ethnicity in festivals held throughout the year.
For travelers who love ethnic parties, the best reasons to visit Reno are its festivals. Held at various times throughout the year, these events are usually weekend affairs and admission is free.
* Since Reno’s population is more than 20 percent Hispanic, The Cinco de Mayo Celebration, commemorating the Mexican victory over the French at the Battle of Puebla in 1862, is one of the city’s biggest. Usually held on the first weekend in May, activities take place both in Reno as well as the adjacent city of Sparks. Stages erected on various streets and parking lots in the two cities feature non-stop entertainment – mariachis, Hispanic dance groups and bands playing Mexican favorites. Vendors sell everything from tomales to souvenirs, vacqueros ride their horses, and there’s also a marathon that is a Boston Marathon qualifier.
* The Basque Festival, held each year in July, isn’t as large as the National Basque Festival in Elko, but features the same elements – feats of strength competitions, dance exhibitions and feasting. The event’s location is Wingfield Park, a short walk from Casino Row.
* On the third weekend in August, St. Anthony Greek Orthodox Church (4795 Lakeside Drive, Reno) sponsors its annual Greek Festival. Beginning Friday noon, the three-day affair offers dancing performances by groups from around the West (including those from St. Anthony), sit-down dining from a menu of Greek specialties, games and contests for the children and shopping for ethnic items.
* One of the largest of the ethnic celebrations, the Italian Festival is held on the weekend either before or after Columbus Day. Sponsored by the Eldorado Hotel and Casino, most of the special events are held along a three-block stretch of South Virginia Street. On-stage music is provided by bands from Italy, playing both Italian and standard pop tunes.
Strolling entertainers in costume, playing medieval instruments and singing, add color as well as culture. There are stilt-walkers, too, and novelties like an organ grinder with his monkey. Food booths line the street, with fresh-made pasta, Italian sausage and wine among the best sellers. Bocce ball tournaments, grape-stomping competitions and a farmers’ market are also part of the traditional celebration.
* Also in October, the Celtic Festival is held at Bartley Ranch Park in the southwest quadrant of the city. Pipe bands present performances in the park’s amphitheatre, and non-stop Celtic dancers from around the Western United States exhibit their skills on another stage. Several of the booths display Scotch and Irish memorabilia — such as family crests and clan information — while others offer Celtic foods for sale. Attendees of Celtic heritage wear their kilts and clan-plaid costumes (yardage is available for sale).
* The city’s Chinese New Years festivities take place primarily in its casinos. Special performances in showrooms by Chinese entertainers, restaurant menus featuring Chinese dishes and traditional New Years decorations.