Get out those sequins and party

Carnivals, dragons and general fiesta - a round-up of what's on around the world in February
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The Independent Travel

From cross-dressing to orange-throwing, masquerade to pyrotechnics, February brings frantic festivity that promises to reach even the parts that millennial mayhem missed. Those who failed to party like it was 1999 will not have to step farther than their front door without stumbling over a celebration worth getting into sequins for. Across the Christian world, carnival arrives with more than the usual explosive fanfare, while Chinese New Year is celebrated under the almighty appellation of the dragon. The Buddhist festival of Magha Puja ensures that those lucky enough to be more or less anywhere in South-east Asia will have more reason than ever to marvel at the majesty of gilded temples illuminated by a full moon and, lest we forget, there is of course the small matter of St Valentine to be celebrated closer to home.

From cross-dressing to orange-throwing, masquerade to pyrotechnics, February brings frantic festivity that promises to reach even the parts that millennial mayhem missed. Those who failed to party like it was 1999 will not have to step farther than their front door without stumbling over a celebration worth getting into sequins for. Across the Christian world, carnival arrives with more than the usual explosive fanfare, while Chinese New Year is celebrated under the almighty appellation of the dragon. The Buddhist festival of Magha Puja ensures that those lucky enough to be more or less anywhere in South-east Asia will have more reason than ever to marvel at the majesty of gilded temples illuminated by a full moon and, lest we forget, there is of course the small matter of St Valentine to be celebrated closer to home.

Carnival

Carnival kicks off across the Christian world this month, building up to the biggies in Brazil and Miami next month. However, closer to home the party starts with the classiest candidate in Venice. Reviving the traditional masked balls, elaborate costumes and theatrical performances of the 18th century, this two-week festival is the most exciting time to visit this eternally spectacular city - if you miraculously manage to find somewhere to stay. Carnival 2000 promises to be a superlative event, with themes ("Memory and Desire") drawn from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. It kicks off on Friday 25 February with the Festa della Marie, one of Venice's oldest celebrations.

A lesser-known but more savage shindig takes place a little further south in the town of Ivrea, culminating in a three-day orange-fight involving the whole town. The main party takes place on the Saturday, Sunday and Monday (4-6 March) running up to the grand finale on Shrove Tuesday. On Ash Wednesday, the costumes come off and the whole town gathers in the orange-carpeted piazza where fried polenta and cod are donated to pooped-out partiers.

In neighbouring France (10 February-7 March) Nice plays host to 21 days of floats, flowers and music during Carnival on the Riviera. For the entire three weeks before Ash Wednesday Nice is overtaken by huge papier-mâché characters with giant heads and a vast parades of flowers (Bataille des Fleurs), accompanied by marching bands and majorettes.

Francophone cousins across the Atlantic, in Québec City, come out of hibernation temporarily to enjoy (or endure depending on your climate preferences) dog-sledding, snow baths and ice sculpture in temperatures that regularly bungee-jump between -5C and -30C. Ski suits incorporating extra-large pockets for hippo-sized hip-flasks are essential.

But for those who could not possibly think of partying in salopets, steamy Sydney (11 February-4 March) is the place to be for carnival this month. Sartorial statements following the "less is more" edict are the way to play at Australian carnival, where everyone is queen. Fetish, drag, kitsch and masquerade is the preferred uniform during Mardi Gras, the month-long cultural extravaganza incorporating exhibitions, music, plays, performance art and literature that express the essence of what it means to be gay in modern society.

Magha Puja

19 February

After Buddha's birthday (and deathday) in May, Magha Puja is the most important celebration in the Buddhist calendar, commemorating the day on which Lord Buddha recited his Fundamental Teaching, or ovadha patimokkha, to 1,250 disciples in Rajgaha City. Always celebrated on the full moon of the third lunar month, Magha Puja is a time for meditation and prayer and sunset processions. Normally the preserve of monks, the teachings (to do good, to abstain from bad action and to purify the mind) are also adhered to by lay people during this festival, and temples all over the Buddhist world, from Sri Lanka to Laos, become the scene of processions. For the most impressive ceremony, cover those shoulders and aim for temples at: Luang Prabang (a Unesco World Heritage site in Laos, otherwise known as the Venice of the East) where orange-robed monks, incense and gold leaf will adorn the 500-year-old temple; That Phanom in north-east Thailand, where the temple, raised on a gleaming white marble platform, houses a relic of the Buddha's breastbone; and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha in Bangkok where the Thai king will attend the evening ceremony at the Chapel Royal in the centre of the incense-clouded 61-acre complex.

Chinese New Year

5-20 February

The mother of all New Year's festivals, Chinese New Year, or the Spring Festival, is celebrated by Chinese communities world-wide from San Francisco to New York and from London to Hong Kong and the Tet festival in Vietnam. Of course the best place to celebrate the start of the Year of the Dragon, signifying power, prosperity and protection, is China. The Dragon, the first in the astrological Chinese cycle, won't come around again for another 12 years, and won't coincide with a new western millennium for another 3,000 years - that's 5000AD for those without calculators.

Chinese New Year's festivities started simmering weeks ago and will last for around 15 days, ending with the Lantern Festival. The origins of the festival and the traditions associated with it are exceptionally old; the Chinese calendar alone dates from 2600BC, and many aspects of the festivities probably pre-date that. Expect dragon dances, lantern shows, yangge dances and exclamations of "gong xi fa cai": "happy and prosperous new year".

Chinese New Year celebrations in London will focus on Gerrard Street, between Soho and Leicester Square. On the Leicester Square stage you will find lion and dragon dances, Chinese opera, and kung fu demonstrations from visiting Chinese Shaoling Temple monks. In Chinatown itself expect exhibitions and food stalls with lion dancers between 1pm and 6pm.

For updated worldwide festival listings, go to www.whatsonwhen.com

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