February – Party Time Worldwide (07.02.14)
February is party time, around the world and across a variety of cultures, creeds and continents. The list of celebrations, festivals and carnivals is long and colourful.
Although specific dates vary year on year, the beginning of the month heralds the Lunar New Year (19th January – 20 February). The Chinese New Year and Candlemas (forty days after Christmas) are the first of a host of celebrations to play out across the globe. By the end of the month Rio Carnival is in full flow, setting the tone for Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) celebrations.
The buzz of dressing up, taking the street by storm and lighting up the town, village, hillside, temple or natural landscape you live in stretches far and wide. Whether historical, religious or plain hedonistic the breadth of party offerings in February is huge:
Deep mid-winter ice comes alive during the world’s largest Snow & Ice Festival in Harbin, China, where enormous tower block ice carvings dominate. A similar party spirit can also be found in the Old Town of Quebec City, Canada. Their Winter Festival, originally created in 1894, beats the winter chill.
Meanwhile, in the tropics the party mood comes in many guises. Tet Nguyen Dan is the biggest day in Vietnam’s national calendar, with New Year celebrations purposely making as much noise as possible in order to leave last year’s problems behind. I remember the deafening explosion of fireworks when I was in Vietnam in 1995. It was all the more impressive as it was the last time local people were allowed to celebrate with fireworks before the national ban came in.
Full Moon Day will make you wince in Malaysia, as the Batu Caves host the Hindu festival marking the day when Lord Shiva’s son was presented with a lance to see off demons. Body piercing takes on a whole new meaning as kavadi carriers pierce parts of their body with all manner of instruments.
Pingxi, Taiwan, an hour east of New Taipei City, offers a majestic blaze of around 200,000 luminous lanterns with scribbled written messages, gliding up into the full moon night sky.
The South Pacific enjoys a variety of February party celebrations too, with Tapati Rapa Nui (Easter Island) offering one of the most impressive festivals dedicated to appreciating local culture through singing, dancing and costume. Similarly, on the other side of the South Pacific Ocean, New Zealand’s North Island Splore Festival takes place this year. It’s a bi-annual celebration giving revellers an opportunity to combine a mix of beach scenery, music and all things environmental in the midst of several important Maori settlements.
Italy arguably leads the field in European February festivals with its Carnevale di Venezia, with masks and costumes galore. Participants take on the behaviour of whatever alter ego takes their fancy – as they have been doing since its inception in 1162 – however flamboyant, colourful and mischievous that might be. Likewise the Tuscan coastal town of Viareggio has known how to party since 1873, with the advent of Carnevale. Colourful clowns, riotous music and over a million revellers descend over the month to enjoy a huge variety of activities.
Africa offers an eclectic mix of February festivals too – Niger’s Festival sur le Niger focuses on the music and traditions of the Segou region. Cape Town’s Gay Pride explodes onto the street with a rainbow of colourful costumes and street parades. Meanwhile, Zanzibar hosts this year’s 11th annual Sauti za Bursara Music Festival.
Although there are many other February fiestas across the globe, perhaps the most apt of all parties to end February on is Rio Carnival itself. Not only because this year is 2014 FIFA World Cup Year, but because it is still regarded as the world’s most famous dance bash on the planet.
Samba dancing, gigantic floats, open air raves, 5,000 performers, 400 drummers, g-strings, head-dresses, drag queens, super models, beach parties and over 70,000 spectators… and that’s just the Parade. Everywhere else, across the country, follows the form like no other February fiesta.
And if you want to get in the mood, it’s still not too late to arrange a trip there.