Vegetable sculptures ... The puppet of Seville ... Mud-crab racing
Sunday 20 December 1998
Scandinavian fusion at the Royal Opera House as The Royal Swedish Ballet dance to the music of the Finnish composer, Jean Sibelius in an interpretation of a novel by Selma Lagerlof, described as a "wintry thriller". The full- length ballet by Par Isberg, entitled Sir Arne's Treasure, recently had its world premiere in Britain.
The colonial town of Oaxaca in southern Mexico plays host to a one-day festival celebrating the introduction of radishes to the continent by colonists following the Spanish conquest. Prizes will be awarded for the best sculptures carved out of the oversized vegetables, which traditionally depict Biblical scenes or historical events. Christmas in general is a huge fiesta all over Mexico, and Christmas Eve sees a procession called the posada take place in most Mexican towns, involving a woman on a donkey and a man dressed in robes, depicting Mary and Joseph. This nativity procession heads for the town's biggest church, where Mass is held. A party for the region's children follows - before the fireworks and tequila are fired up and the adults have their fun. Those in search of a really big party should go to Catitlan, near Guadalajara, or Santiago Tuxtla, in Veracruz - both known for their riotous festivities.
Artisans from the environs of Cuzco have stalls set up by 6am, ready to sell wooden toys and nativity figures to locals and tourists alike. You can pick up a replica of the bone-shaker truck that got you there in the first place, or a doll of the baby Jesus which you can then have blessed on Christmas Day in one of Cuzco's fantastically ornate churches, before sitting down to a traditional lunch of roast guinea pig.
If sun, sea and serious Christmas partying is your thing, then head to Goa for some alternative festive fun. Over the Christmas period Goa plays host to a high-energy hybrid of the annual Christian festival and seaside hedonism, when travellers from all over South Asia converge on the region's famous beaches. The usual full-moon party antics prevail around the village of Anjuna, shifted up a gear or two in honour of the birth of Christ - or at least that is the excuse. Outside the beach environment, Christian and Hindu communities alike observe Christmas with the more conventional, but nonetheless colourful Midnight Mass - or Missa de Galo (literally, cockerel mass). Family get-togethers involve the consumption of colossal quantities of pork and feni (potent local spirit), plus special Goan sweets prepared for the occasion, made with ground rice fried in oil.
26 December-5 January
See your favourite opera performed in miniature by puppets at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. There are two showings daily until 5 January of works such as The Magic Flute, The Barber of Seville and Die Fledermaus. Prices start at Sch260 (around pounds 13). If you are anywhere near Salzburg around Christmas Eve it would be worth checking out the village of Obendorf. Obendorf's chapel was where Silent Night was composed and people cram into the chapel, or alternatively line the surrounding hillsides under the stars, to sing this and other carols. But watch out for the more sinister Krampus - an antlered figure whose origins stretch back to the much earlier pagan midwinter festivals - who comes out after dark, waits in the side streets, and whacks passers-by with a stick.
24 and 26 December
Christmas Eve sees a riotous party in Galisteo. The town organises a slapstick, and somewhat bawdy, version of the nativity, involving 33 actors and a big plastic doll to represent Jesus. On 26 December the Spanish version of April Fool's Day is celebrated in various towns across the country. The wildest celebration is held in Fuentecarreretos near Cordoba, where El Baile de los Locos (the Dance of the Madmen) causes complete chaos, with dancers often passing - uninvited - through strangers' houses.
Beat that Boxing Day lull with some alternative sports events that are fast becoming an annual tradition at the Spinifex Hotel, Derby, Western Australia. There are opportunities to display your skill at seed-spitting and stubby-sipping or to pit yourself against the natives with cockroach and mangrove mud-crab racing.
An alternative New Year's event to the American Orange Bowl Parade, (the all-American feature of New Year's Eve in Miami), the King Mambo Strut will be hitting the streets of Miami a few days earlier than its official rival. This satirical shindig includes regulars such as the Precision Briefcase Team and the Marching Freds.
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