From Hindu rites to Carnival in Rio

BRAZIL

Carnival 24 February

Carnival means colourful costumes and frenzied dancing, and for many it's synonymous with Rio. But the event has more solemn origins; Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, is traditionally the last day on which Christians can feast before Lent. The word is derived from carne levare, the taking away of meat, or fasting period. The event in Rio this year runs from 21 to 24 February. Revellers will be treated to samba dancing, music and processions. Carnival is also popular in Venice, New Orleans (where it's Mardi Gras), France and Spain. Contact the Brazilian Tourist Office on 020-7629 6909 or visit www.brazil.org.uk

INDIA

Maha Shivratri 18 February

This festival is devoted to Shiva, one-third of the Hindu triumvirate of gods, who creates and destroys life. It is celebrated in particular by women, who pray for the well-being of the men in their families. Traditionally, the festival begins on the day Shiva was thought to marry Parvati. Devotees fast throughout the day, bathe in water boiled with black sesame seeds to wash away impurities, then worship at the temples during the night. The fast is broken the following morning with a feast in honour of Shiva. Worship usually involves washing the Shiva Lingam, a stone symbol of the god, with milk, rose water and honey while chanting mantras. Worshippers also bring lotus flowers as offerings and sing hymns. One of the traditional sites is in Ujjain in Madhya Pradesh (central India) at the Temple of Mahakaleshwar. For further information call 00 91 755 277 8383 or visit www.tourismindia.com.

US

St Patrick's Day 17 March

This still manages to pull in the crowds around the world, Irish or not. The day marks the death of St Patrick, a fourth-century missionary thought to have been born in England or Wales, who became the patron saint of Ireland. He was the one who used the shamrock and its three leaves to explain the Holy Trinity. The parade tradition originated in the US on St Patrick's Day in 1762 when the Irish contingent of the British army marched through the streets of New York. Today, it perhaps rivals only the celebrations in Dublin, keeping to the traditions of marching bands and processions. The march begins at 44th Street and Fifth Avenue at 11am, led by the Irish 165th Infantry, finishing at 86th Street. For more information on the New York City Parade call 020-7629 6891 or see www.saintpatricksday-parade.com.

ITALY

Festa del Boccolo (Roses in Spring) 25 April

This festival is celebrated in Venice on the day of the city's patron saint, Mark the Evangelist. Venetian men throughout the city give the women in their life roses or spring flowers. Mark replaced the previous patron saint Theodore in the ninth century, when the Evangelist's remains were stolen and brought to the city from Alexandria on the pretext that he had preached there during his lifetime. In the past, the day was celebrated with a religious procession in the Piazza San Marco, but now it's been downsized and takes place in the Basilica of San Marco followed by the giving of flowers all over the city. For more information call 00 39 041 529 8711 or visit www.turismovenezia.it.

JAPAN

Hakata Dontaku 3-4 May

This colourful festival is held annually in the city of Fukuoka, on the western side of Kyushu Island. Once an uninteresting industrial city, Fukuoka has more recently become something of a cultural centre, with many visiting its festivals, in particular the Hakata Dontaku festival in early May. The day's celebrations are derived from an older tradition known as matsubayashi, where villagers would dress up as the three Buddhist gods of good fortune to mark the New Year. These days, people of all ages dress up in vivid costumes and parade through the city. The festival is celebrated during a week of public holidays and national festivals known as the Golden Week, which includes the Constitutional Memorial Day on 3 May, which marks the Japanese Constitution of 1947. For more information on the event call 00 81 92 431 3003 or see www.fukuoka-now.com.

GUATEMALA / SPAIN

Semana Santa (Holy Week) 4-11 April

Semana Santa marks the beginning of Easter celebrations in the Christian calendar. The festivities in the beautiful colonial city of Antigua in the highlands of Guatemala are among the most colourful in the world. The processions are organised by the religious brotherhoods of each church, or cofradia. Each procession carries a religious idol and a Christ figure. The women follow behind, carrying a statue of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by men swinging incense burners and onlookers throwing flowers. The procession is accompanied by brass bands playing funeral marches. This is a reverent and sombre event but spectacular none the less, attracting visitors from all over Latin America and beyond. Holy Week culminates on Easter Sunday when fireworks are let off. For further information on the Antigua events, call 020-7349 0346 or visit www.inguat.gob.gt.

Some of Europe's biggest Holy Week celebrations take place in Seville in southern Spain, where those in the procession wear conical hats covering their heads with only sinister slits for eyes. Spanish Tourist Office: 020-7486 8077, www.tourspain.co.uk.

INDIA

Holi 6 March

Perhaps one of the most colourful festivals, Holi celebrates the destruction of human sin such as greed, selfishness and hate by throwing coloured powders, or "gulal" into the air and smearing them on the face. Special food is prepared for a celebratory meal and huge bonfires are burnt in the street. The bonfires not only signify the burning of sin but also the end of winter. The main day is Parva, when the powders are thrown, accompanied by traditional songs. No worship takes place in temples, other than smearing the gulal on the faces of idols of Krishna and his lover Radha - this is a celebration of family and goodwill, and marks the death of Pootna, who tried to kill Krishna. A good place to witness the celebration of Holi is Ahmadabad, in the region of Gujarat, although celebrations take place throughout Hindu-practising countries, such as Nepal. For more information call 00 91 79 658 9172 or see www.indiatouristoffice.org

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