Oregon's Colorful Festivals


1963 Portland Rose Festival photo
This photo from a 1963 Portland Rose Festival souvenir program shows the Grand Floral Parade moving through downtown Portland. (Portland Rose Festival Association)
Oregonians have always looked for reasons to celebrate. Native Americans gathered at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River for thousands of years to fish, trade and celebrate. A growing wave of Euro-American settlers in the mid-1800s brought many of their own traditional festivals to Oregon. Celebrations from other continents followed.

a graphic of a Greek dancer
This graphic of a Greek dancer is used in literature to promote the Portland Greek Festival. The festival began in the early 1950s. (Portland Greek Festival)
Local festivals reveal a lot about how communities see themselves and want to be seen. They strengthen bonds between existing members by highlighting cultural and economic commonalities. They lay out the welcome mat for visitors to come and see what makes them unique and exciting. And, of course, boosterism has played a large role over the decades. Town leaders have seen festivals as a way to promote more growth and attract new members to the community.

While generally centered on a geographic area, festivals tend to focus on a broad range of subjects such as industries, crops, ethnic cultures, art, and so on. Thus, many festivals pay tribute to how we work. Since Oregon historically has been dominated by timber, agriculture, fishing and mining, it’s not surprising that these economic drivers figure prominently into the celebrations.

Communities also love to celebrate their cultural traditions from around the world. So, Oregonians willing to travel around the state can experience the look, sound, smell and taste of far-off places. Examples include the Japan Nite Obon Festival in Ontario, the Woodburn Fiesta Mexicana and the Portland Greek Festival. Art is another excuse to come together and celebrate. Oregon boasts numerous festivals centered on music, film, visual arts and more.

In an age when it’s easy to concentrate on what divides us, Oregon’s festivals and celebrations bring us together—if only for a day or two. Maybe we need even more festivals!