Wherever you are in the world at any time of year, you’ll never be too far from people gathered together in celebration. From ancient tribal rituals to pagan parties, Globe Trekker Great Festivals is a month-by-month compilation guide to the most flamboyant festivals experienced by Globe Trekker travellers all around the world.
January is the month of Ethiopia’s biggest festival, the medieval Christian pageant Timkat (Epiphany). It is celebrated all over the country but is most spectacular in Lalibela, a village famous for its ancient architectural curiosities.
In Vietnam, Justine Shapiro witnesses Tet, Vietnam’s most important festival which marks the end of the lunar calendar in February. Many families spend a year’s savings on food, flowers and firecrackers, which are meant to frighten away bad spirits.
Also in February, Mardi Gras is held in most Catholic countries. It’s the last feast day before the beginning of lent, though these days revellers are more concerned with having a ball. Justine joins in the tradition of tossing beads to bystanders in New Orleans. From here she heads to Sydney, Australia, where the world famous Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras is a really wild party. The ultimate Mardi Gras experience is Carnivale in Rio de Janeiro, and Ian Wright learns samba, takes part in the parade and crashes one of the hundreds of carnival balls all over town.
In Canada’s Northwest Territories the Caribou Festival takes place very March in Yellowknife. Originally to welcome the coming of spring, these days it’s a whacky event where anything goes – from computer-bashing to ugly dog and truck competitions.
In Antigua in Guatemala a unique Easter tradition takes place during the Holy Week in April. The locals fabricate beautiful alfombras from sawdust and flower petals in the streets, then dress up as biblical characters to accompany the processions in memory of the crucifixion.
Neil Gibson was attracted to Cuzco in Peru by the revival of the Inca Inti Raymi festival inJune. The procession, headed by ceremonial virgins carrying sacred offerings, winds through the streets to the ruins of Sacsayhuaman, where Inca rituals are performed.
Amongst destinations of pilgrims since ancient times is the Black Madonna, the miracle working protectress of the Polish people at the Jasna Gora monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. Shilpa Mehta’s pilgrimage in Northern Spain includes a walk along the Pilgrim Trail to Santiago de Compostella, reputedly the burial place of Saint James. July 25th is the anniversary of his death and pilgrims time the end of their trip to coincide with this date.
In July, Ian Wright witnesses the spectacular Sardia horse race in the small Sardinian village of Sedilo. The high speed race through the streets last for three hours. Also in July thrill-seekershead for Pamplona in Northern Spain for the world famous, and highly dangerous bull run.
For the traveller who’s become blasé about age old customs, there’s plenty of new celebrations on the scene. Every August in Amsterdam the gay pride parade takes place and Jonathan Atherton witnesses the floating procession, continuing late into the night in true Amsterdam style. Likewise the Burning Man festival in the Blackrock desert, in Nevada, USA, is an innovative new age affair where there are no spectators, only participants.
In almost every religion there is some tradition of performing public acts of penance. These scenes can be disturbing but are always unforgettable: In Gulit in Northern Pakistan Neil Gibson saw the Ashura Parade, where Shia devotees flagellate themselves with sharpened blades to mark the death of Hussein, the last in the blood line. Shilpa Mehta visited San Fernando in the Philippines where a controversial religious ritual involving mock crucifixions takes place each Easter. Justine herself bears witness to the festival of Thaipusam in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Hindu devotees undergo weeks of purification to prepare for the ultimate test of faith, often involving piercing their bodies and dragging heavy structures.
The bi-annual Goroka festival in Papua New Guinea takes place in September. It was founded to quell conflicts between rival tribes and it’s a rare opportunity to get an overview of the authentic tribes that populate the highlands.
In November Ian Wright takes part in the elephant round-up in Surin, Thailand. The elephant is a very royal animal in Thailand and the event is a celebration of its sheer strength.
Places Mentioned - Australia, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic and Poland (southern), Italy, La Ruta Maya - Yucatan & Guatemala & Belize, Netherlands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Thailand, USA, VietnamShare the series
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