When people think of Labor Day weekend, they usually associate it with a day off from work, a barbecue and, generally, one last hurrah before the summer is out. However, for thousands of people around the world, this time of year only means one thing: Burning Man.
You probably hear some rumblings about Burning Man every year. Maybe you've seen some photos of the wild happenings online or you have a free-spirited friend who's been there before. For many, Burning Man is like this mythical creature that they know exists but they've never seen in person and don't really know what it's all about. In honor of Monday being the final day of this week-long festival, here's everything you need to know about the biggest party in the desert.
What is Burning Man?
Burning Man is like the biggest pop-up shop you've ever seen. Every year just before Labor Day, tens of thousands of people descend upon Black Rock Desert in Nevada, also known as the "playa," to set up a temporary community nicknamed Black Rock City. While there, attendees, or "participants" as they are better known, pledge to get in the "spirit of community, art, self-expression and self-reliance," according to Burning Man's official website. Then once it's all over, everything brought to create Burning Man is dismantled and disappears as if it was never there to begin with.
Every year, Burning Man has a theme, and the theme for 2014 is "Caravansary." Caravansaries were stops along the Silk Road where members of caravans would stop for rest, trade and to interact with other travelers. Burning Man attempted to recreate this, except instead of exchanging material possessions, people exchanged ideas and inspiration. Past themes have included "Fertility," "Hell" and "Cargo Cult."
How did it start?
The first Burning Man was held in 1986 at Baker Beach in San Francisco. Larry Harvey along with his friend Jerry James built the famous wooden figure that only stood at about eight feet and burned it in honor of the Summer Solstice. The tradition gained more attendees and publicity every year, moving to the Black Rock Desert and growing to nearly 70,000 participants.
What does the Man symbolize?
The most famous part of Burning Man is the 40-foot-tall wooden figure that's constructed and burned on the Saturday before Labor Day. Harvey, James and some friends burned the effigy for the Summer Solstice. Since then, rumors have circulated that Harvey wanted to burn the figure because of a break-up or that it was supposed to be "guerrilla art." According to Burning Man's official website, "This figure represents nothing expressed or explicable, yet is a physical and ethical guidepost for fifty thousand people during at least one week of the year."
What are the Ten Principles?
Harvey created the Ten Principles in 2004 as a way to guide the Regional Network dedicated to preserving Burning Man's culture of community, creativity and self-reliance around the world all year long. The Ten Principles are radical inclusion, gifting, de-commodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression, communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy.
What happens at Burning Man?
Basically, any form of creative expression happens at Burning Man. There's art installations, music, dance, crazy costumes, lights. You name it. It probably goes down at Burning Man. It's one big party in the desert, but more artsy than your typical festival.
This year's Burning Man had a couple of somber moments. The bacchanal was hit with a rainstorm unusual for the desert on its first day, Aug. 25. Organizers closed the main entrance to the gathering and put a hold on the festivities. In much more tragic news, a woman was also killed at the festival this year after falling under a moving bus.
What's this about Burning Man becoming commercial?
What started as a low-key gathering on the beach has turned into big business. Although the organization rakes in millions of dollars, it recently became run by a non-profit organization called Burning Man Project, although Black Rock City, LLC still owns it and remains as a subsidiary of the non-profit. Many see Burning Man's financial success as the antithesis to its anti-commercialization message. Once a place where only free spirits flocked, it's now common to see GOP leaders and Silicon Valley billionaires at the festival. However, Burning Man's organizers are embracing the event's evolution. "Change is inevitable," said Black Rock City Manager Harley DuBois. "Our world keeps changing and our event is going to keep changing because our world is changing."