One of the main reasons I travel is to experience different cultures. I love to learn what is important to different people around the world; I like to hear the folklore and reasons behind all of their different beliefs and celebrations.
Festivals are a great way to get involved with the locals and hear each persons version of the stories passed from generation to generation and why each festival is important to them.
The bigger and brighter the festival the better, for me.
There are so many festivals and world celebrations that I'd love to experience but I've given it some serious thought (it's taken me a whole week to write this) and these are my top ten.
Holi Day, India - Usually in March, the dates vary from year to year
This festival really fascinates me. Folklore says that there was once an demon king called Hiranyakashyap who ordered everyone in his kingdom to worship him. He had a baby boy called Prahlad. Prahlad was very holy and spent most of his time praying to Lord Naarayana. This infuriated his father who one day ordered his sister, the demon Holika, to kill the boy. Holika had a boon which made her immune to fire. She coaxed Prahlad into her lap and sat with him in a blazing fire, however, the boon would only work if she was alone. Holika was reduced to ashes, but Prahlad, who was continually chanting the name of Lord Naarayana was saved by his devotion.
Holi is celebrated as the triumph of good over evil and colourful powder and water is thrown into the air to cover everyone there in splashes of the rainbow. Children and adults alike, run through the streets shouting "Holi Hai" and throwing fist fulls of this coloured paint at anyone who passes.
It looks like amazing fun, and where else could you take pictures of people covered head to toe in coloured paint with smiles on their faces and joy in their hearts?
Chinese new year, Hong Kong - 23rd January in 2012 but varies each year
My Grandad spent a long time living in Hong Kong so it's a place I've wanted to visit for a very long time.
The Chinese New Year is celebrated world wide anywhere that has a China Town, but I have this fantasy of being in Hong Kong, seeing the flower markets, watching the New Year processions and watching the reflection over the water of Fireworks and Chinese Lanterns being released into the night.
Venice Carnival - February (usually around Valentines Day)
|My own photo. I love how guilty this pair looks sneaking|
into the cafe for a big piece of cake
I have actually been to this festival and it's the only one on my list that I've seen with my own eyes. I would recommend it to anyone, it really is a lot of fun!
The carnival celebrates the passing of winter and coming of spring. People line the streets wearing elaborate costumes and masks, some hand made at home and some bought from specialist stores around Venice. It suggests that anything is possible, including the illusion of the most humble classes becoming the most powerful by wearing masks.
New Orleans Jazz Festival - the last weekend in April and first weekend in May
The Jazz Fest, as it is sometimes known, celebrates the music and culture indigenous to New Orleans and encompasses every style of music associated with New Orleans and Louisiana - obviously jazz is high up there on the playlist, but other styles such as blues, Cajun, Latin, Afro-Caribbean and many more are also featured.
I first became interested in the music and culture of New Orleans after watching a tv series called 'Treme' which is about how the people of Treme, a little area in New Orleans, rebuilt their lives after they were torn apart by Hurricane Katrina. Music seems to be the one thing that brings everyone together and gives them something to celebrate and be joyous about.
Mardi Gras - Shrove Tuesday, dates vary from year to year
Also in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is celebrated by getting dressed up in fantastic costumes, often hand stitched using finest quality feathers, beads and sequins - painstakingly put together for months in advance of the celebrations, parading the streets, dancing to live music and eating traditional food in abundance. People collect strings of coloured beads thrown to the them by begging "throw me something mister". The beads represent those worn by royalty.
Rio Carnival, Brazil - before lent, dates vary
The Rio Carnival has been around since 1723 and is one of the biggest carnivals in the world. It is a parade of various Samba schools who decorate their floats and costumes according a to a theme of their choice. Each school competes to have the best float, the best costume and best music and dance displays.
There are also street festivals which anyone can take part in.
The music is mostly percussion instruments led by a man blowing a special whistle called an apito.
Dia de Los Muertos, Mexico - November 2nd
Also known as 'the day of the dead', it isn't as morbid as it sounds! Families and friends gather to pray for and remember those who have died. They visit the graves of the departed and leave gifts of their favourite foods and drink in a hope to encourage their souls to visit and hear their prayers. Family and friends will also tell funny stories and anecdotes about the person who is dead and remember the good and happy times.
A common symbol of the day is the skull and sugar skulls are left with the name of the recipient inscribed on the forehead. People will also wear costumes with skull masks. Many people carry day of the dead skeleton dolls as good luck.
Jaipur painted elephant festival - March, one day only
Painted elephants? Need I say more?
This is actually celebrated as part of Holi but is a separate festival. The Mayotte decorate their elephants from head to toe with exceptional care - they paint them with brightly coloured floral designs and clothe them in rugs made of intricately embelished silk and there is a contest for the best looking elephant.
Moroccan Rose festival, el Kelaa des M'Gouna - 3 days in mid May
Held each year when the area is flooded in a sea of pink damask roses, this must easily be the best smelling festival in the world. All of the locals and tourists from all over the world come together to celebrate the good crop, eat great food and enjoy traditional Berber singing and dancing.
Harbin Snow and Ice Festival, China - 5th January until the snow melts
Hundreds of gigantic, intricately designed ice sculptures line both sides of the banks of the frozen Songhua river which runs through Harbin. Huge, almost life size fairytale castles, replicas of famous world buildings and landmarks including the sphinx are all illuminated at night for visitors to wander around and imagine they are the ice queen.