UNTIL 11 DECEMBER
Jewish communities worldwide
Chanukah: the Jewish festival of lights and the happiest holiday in the Jewish calendar. Jewish communities world-wide will be lighting the nine branches of the menorah and spinning the dreidel - a four-sided spinning top. The holiday commemorates the victory of Maccabees against the Syrians, the reclamation of the temple in Jerusalem and the miracle of the oil lamp that burned for eight days (the duration of the festival) with only the tiniest amount of oil to fuel it. Christmas shoppers in New York take heed: Chanukah closes down the city's best delis, so don't bank on a salt beef sandwich for sustenance between rounds at Bloomingdales.
UNTIL 24 DECEMBER
European Christmas markets
Of all Germany's legendary Christmas markets the oldest and largest is in Nuremberg. Offering the best stuffing for stockings and stomachs alike, Nuremberg's festive fare includes cinnamon sticks, hot fresh gingerbread men and steaming mugs of Gluhwein, along with hand-crafted traditional toys. Or head to Lubeck for a Christmas market where the speciality is marzipan, held in a medieval building, formerly a dormitory for the wives of fisherman lost at sea. Other German cities of note for shoppers are Cologne, which has four markets close to the cathedral, plus Munich, Essen, Berlin, Heidelberg and Bremen.
Oompah bands abound as Vienna celebrates the Christmas season with its series of Advent markets. This 700-year-old tradition is at its finest in the Town Hall Square, where 150 stalls, piled high with candles, toys, sausage and strudel, are set up under trees ablaze with lanterns.
Francophile foodies can harden their arteries long before 25 December with speciality foods from each region represented in markets across the country. And each region has its own poultry fair, so for the very best dinde (turkey) head for Sees (Normandy) 11 December, Licques (Nord-Pas de Calais) 12-13 December, and Jaligny-sur-Besbre (Auvergne) 15 December. For those who do not want to travel too far into the French hinterland, on 19 December there is a one-day traditional medieval Christmas market taking place in Boulogne-sur-mer and Dieppe has markets running until Christmas Eve.
The sort of thing that nasty nannies used to tell bad British children to scare them into eating their sprouts actually takes place in Guatemala. Burning the Devil is a day of sanctioned terrorism as grown men dress up as Lucifer and chase small children through the streets. Away from the metropolitan terrors of Guatemala City, the Devil becomes more symbolic - for example, in highland towns the ceremony doubles up as an efficient waste disposal service, with the Devil represented by hundreds of smoky bonfires built from villagers' refuge.
FROM 8 DECEMBER
Islamic communities worldwide
Ramadan is the Muslim world's holy month. In line with the fourth pillar of Islam, Muslims abstains from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual intercourse between sunset and sunrise. Extra prayers and recitations of the Qur'an are prescribed daytime activities, as the purpose of fasting is to bring people closer to God. Consequently the hours of darkness are lively ones - and foreign visitors to such liberal countries as Dubai, Jordan and Tunisia, for example, will be swept up in the nightly round of feasting and partying.
The Mevlana Festival in Konya offers the rare chance to see the "whirling dervishes". In 1925 Ataturk curtailed the power of the dervishes who, under the Ottoman Empire, had exerted considerable influence over society. Today, some dervish orders still survive as religious fraternities and Konya's dervishes have been whirling in worship for some 700 years to seek spiritual union with God.
At 4.46am local time, Gisbourne, on New Zealand's North Island, will be the first city to glimpse the dawn of the new millennium. This will also be the final point of a two-week, 600-mile mass bicycle ride from Auckland. Along with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa's performance at a dawn ceremony on Gisbourne's coast, this will be the highlight of New Zealand's millennium party calendar. Packages to join the cycle ride are available from Tasman Travel (tel: 01625 575755) from pounds 3,475 per person, including return flights, tented accommodation and full board. Return fights to Auckland are available with Bridge The World Travel (tel: 0171-911 0990) flying business class with either Singapore Airlines or Air New Zealand from pounds 2,226.
Australia's biggest party is undoubtedly going to be in Sydney. The city's pyrotechnics will be launched at 9pm against the backdrop of Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Opera House, and will be visible across the city over a distance of 14 kilometres. Austravel (tel: 0171-838 1011) has returns from pounds 499 over the millennium period. The return flight is valid for travel up until the end of April 2000.
Panamanians never need much of an excuse to party but 31 December brings a "two for one" deal to the country: at noon on 31 December America will hand back the "Big Ditch", otherwise known as the Canal, under American control since Panama was born in 1903. This, coupled with the worldwide party just 12 hours later, promises to be the biggest event in the nation's brief history. Journey Latin America (tel: 0181-747 3108) offers return flights with Continental Airlines from pounds 606 return.
The South Pacific is one of the first regions to greet the year 2000. It is also home to Fiji, one of the few pieces of land crossed by the 180th line of longitude - the date line. For availability and further information, turn to the South Pacific spread on pages four and five.
And for those who do not want to go so far afield, there are still flights to Madrid with Go (tel: 0845 6054321) from pounds 150 return over the New Year period. Madrilenos are keen partiers and riotous Noche Vieja (New Year's Eve) celebrations are likely to extend far beyond when one of Spain's most famous clocks, in Puerta del Sol, strikes midnight and thousands of Spaniards carry out a ceremonial grape-stuffing session; one grape is eaten for every chime to ensure a prosperous new year.
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