8-9 Dec

The Phillipines

The feast of La Immaculada Concepcion is celebrated all over the islands but is most impressive in Manila. The image of the Virgin Mary is borne on a lavishly ornamented pagoda which floats down the Malabon river into Manila Bay. Similarly decorated fishing boats circle the pagoda along the way - an act of devotion intended to gain grace for the pious fishermen. Magical, but why does all propitiation, and this more than any, seem quite so fishy?

10 Dec

Britain

At the stroke of midnight, British grouse can breathe a collective sigh of relief as the shooting season officially closes. With no eccentric rituals or wild festivities to mark its conclusion, this four month season hardly ends with a bang. But a stiff upper lip has always been a pre-requisite for the huntin', shootin', fishin' brigade and besides, they've got little to grouse about. They can still blast the buckshot out of deer, pheasant and trespassers.

10-17 Dec

Turkey

This week the town of Konya in southern Turkey becomes the ideal place to unwind. The Mevlana Festival is the annual knees up of the brotherhood of the Whirling Dervishes, who dance themselves into ecstasy and thus achieve a mystical union with God. Our own spin doctors could learn a lot from these peaceful priests. Trance would be a fine thing.

11-14 Dec

Australia

Tennis clubs around the world display those moronic posters declaring what happens to old tennis players. They're wrong, though. The official world tennis circuit for the over 35s, has gone to Sydney. Among the stars of yesteryear dusting down their racquets will be Jimmy Connors, Guillermo Vilas, Roscoe Tanner and Mats Wilander.

13 Dec

Sweden

The winner of a countrywide competition amongst Sweden's more cherubic young girls is crowned at the Skansen museum with a wreath of burning candles. This hair-raising (potentially hair-blazing) honour is part of the annual Santa Lucia festival, representing the banishment of winter darkness. The lucky girl parades through the streets of Stockholm (above) with her blazing barnet and angelic white robes, whilst the watching crowds are jollied along with plenty of festive fare, from rolls shaped like pigs' snouts to gallons and gallons of glogg (Sweden's answer to mulled wine).

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