The Christian year
Carnival is the biggest “Christian” celebration worldwide, and although Easter is also celebrated with as much vigour around the world, it’s a dour event on the whole, enjoyable as a spectacle – for example, in Seville – but not something in which you’d participate unless you’re a believer. Instead, saints’ days, particularly in Catholic countries, provide an excuse for a celebration on both a lavish and a local scale. This book only captures the very best and most spectacular of the world’s saints’ day festivals; wherever you travel, there is sure to be something interesting happening locally.
The Hindu year
Like Catholicism, Hinduism and its legends are the basis of thousands of festivals every year, of which the largest are the Kumbh Mela, a huge pilgrimage – it’s the biggest gathering of humanity on earth – that descends on four holy sites in central India, and Diwali, the Festival of Lights, a smaller, more home-based affair that takes place in October or November and celebrates the return from exile of Lord Rama. Three weeks before Diwali, there’s the more vigorous celebration of Dussehra, to honour Rama’s victory over the demon Ravana, while earlier in the year, Holi, a commemoration of yet another Hindu legend, is celebrated on the first day after the new moon in March by the riotous splashing of colour over everyone and everything. There’s also the camel fair in Pushkar, held in November at one of Hinduism’s most sacred sites. In between all of these there’s a festival for virtually every day of the week in India: we’ve listed some of the best known in the book, but there’s nothing stopping you from discovering your own few days of religious revellry.
The Buddhist year
The Buddhist year is littered with festivals marking a significant event in the life of Buddha, but celebrations can vary wildly from country to country. Buddhist New Year is no exception, which is celebrated – as Losar – in February in Tibet and Nepal, but in April in Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka, and in January in India. Others, such as Thailand’s Loi Krathong, are magical local events, although Sri Lanka’s festival celebrating the Buddha’s sacred tooth, Kandy’s Esala Perahera, is perhaps the most spectacular Buddhist event you could attend.
The Muslim year
Islam doesn’t have the same packed festival calendar as other religions. Indeed, its main annual religious observance, Ramadan, held during the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, is when all devout Muslims are supposed to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and any kind of sexual contact during daylight hours. This makes Ramadan a peculiarly downbeat time to travel through the Islamic world, although the feast of Eid al-Fitr, the three-day festival that celebrates the end of Ramadan, can be fittingly raucous.
The Christian year