The winter chill that takes everyone by surprise in December has dug its teeth deep by January (unless of course you are enjoying sunny summers in the southern hemisphere). Our furs and hats are out and we are ready to combat the dreary weather in style. January is also the time to take the vacation that has been due for nearly a year now. Unsure of where you could go? Here is a list of places that have something special going on in January. Read through and make your pick. Please drop in a line and let us know how your vacations have been.

1. Madurai, India

Float Festival

Get set for the annual float festival

Visit Madurai in Tamil Nadu, India towards the middle of January to partake in the Float Festival. It is a Hindu religious festival. The idols of Goddess Meenakshi and Lord Sundareshwarar are carried to a lake with a show of great pomp- in golden palanquins, pulled by horses and elephants and devotees. Carnatic music resounds throughout. There the idols are placed in a decorated ‘mandap’ ( beautifully designed booth) where priests offer elaborate prayers. The idols are then set on a raft, which has been been wreathed in strings of flowers, in keeping with the grandeur of the ceremony. The raft moves in circles on a lake while hundreds of devotees tug at the ropes attached to it. Finally, the raft reaches the tiny island at the lake's center where the idols are then transferred for the day. During evening the idols return to the main temple in the same way. It is now that Madurai looks most beautiful. Hundred of colorful lights light up the towers of the island temple, lighted lamps are placed on the crevices of the walls surrounding the temple. The raft too has been garishly lit up with electric bulbs and fluorescent lights. Flood lights at the banks of the lake light up the scene like an amphitheater.

A gun is fired and fireworks go off at the shores, before the Goddess and her consort can begin their return journey.

Madurai as a place stands apart from the rest of South India in offering food that will suit the palate of a traveler who does not belong to this part of the country. Besides attractions within the city like the Gandhi Museum, Vandiyur Maariamman Teppakulam and Thrumalai Nayak Place excursions to a lot of beautiful hilly regions surrounding Madurai can also be made. You can visit Courtallam, Kodaikanal, Megamalai, Palani Hills, Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary and Suruli Falls.

Things happening in January: Madurai Float Festival

Dates: Middle of January

2. Harbin, China

Snow and Ice World festival in Harbin

Experience the world's largest ice festival at Harbin.

The world's largest ice festival takes place from January through February in Harbin, China. Full size ice buildings are sculpted from the ice found in the Songhua river. It is like a scene from the movie ‘Frozen’. An international ski festival also takes place around the same time. In fact, what Harbin offers to visitors is a complete winter package- snow sculpture art expo, ice lantern art fair, ice hotels, dog sledding and safaris where you can watch Siberian tigers in action.
Other places to visit while you are in Harbin include the Sophia Square, Harbin Polarland, Heilongjiang Science and Technology Museum, Volgan Manor and Temple of Bliss.

Things happening in January: Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival

Dates: 5 January to 25 February

3. Nara City near Mt Wakakusayama- Japan

Wakakusa Yamayaki

Witness a mountain being set of fire

On the 4th Saturday of January every year, a mountain is set on fire in Japan. It is called Yamayaki. The volcanic mountain, Mt Wakakusayama (also called Mt Mikasayama) is set ablaze. The festival has its roots in a conflict over the boundaries of a couple of temples in Nara City near the mountain. When things got out of hand, an enraged faction set fire to Mt Wakakusayama. After that this has been religiously done every year- probably because people figured it was a good way to drive away wild boars and finish off insects.

A parade of Buddhist monks carries a lighted torch to the shrine at the foothills of the mountain. The hill is then ignited by this ‘sacred’ fire by ordained members of religious sects. Then 200 fire-workers join in. The entrancing spectacle of a tongues of fire leaping from a 340 meter high hill continues for around half an hour, after which fire brigades douse the fire.

The scene can be viewed safely from a viewing spot in Nara City. Go warmly clothed and carry binoculars.

While you are in Nara city you can visit places of interest like Todai-ji, Kofuku-ji, Kasuga taisha, Yakushi-ji, Toshoda-ji, Isuien Garden, Nara National Museum, Heijo Palace and Nara Park.

Things happening in January: Yamayaki

Dates: 4th Saturday of January. It falls on 24 January in the year 2015.

4. Addis Ababa, Gondar, and Lalibela- Ethiopa

Timkat Festival

Witness the reenactment of the Baptism of Jesus Christ at the Jordan River

The Timkat festival is held on the 10th day of Terr according to Ethiopan calendar. It corresponds to 19th January in the English calendar, or 20 th January if it is a leap year. In this festival the baptism of Jesus Christ at the Jordan river is re-enacted. A procession led by a priest carries the Tabot-a representation of the Ark of the Covenant to a nearby water body. It is clad in rich silk clothes as the baby Jesus would have been clad. One priest immerses the Tabot in the water while another sprinkles water over it- symbolic of the baptism of Christ. The Holy Water is then sprinkled over devotees. The Tabot is carried back to the church amidst much fanfare.

The Timkat festival takes place in Addid Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela- so if you can visit interesting spots in nearby areas. You can take a look at the renowned art selections at the Church of Debre Berhan Selassie if you are in Gondar. There are various museums near Addis Ababa.

Things happening in January: Timkat Festival

Dates: 19 January or 20 January

5. Pasto, Colombia

Blacks and Whites Pasto Carnival

Celebrate diversity at the Blacks and Whites Pasto Carnival

Black and Whites Carnival takes place in Pasto in Colombia in the first week of January. As the name suggests, the carnival is a celebration of the racially diverse cultural groups that have settled in Pasto over a period of decades and that form the unique demography of Pasto. The carnival goes on for seven days. It is preceded by the Pre Carnival where everyone gets wet with water filled balloons, hoses, and even fire hydrants. This is followed The Little Carnival where little children participate in cultural shows. Following these festivities, there are parades- Day of the Blacks and Day of the Whites. People alternately throw black paint and white talcum powder on each other on these days.

The carnival is the perfect ‘unsecular’ example of how harmony among cultures and religions can be achieved, not by distancing ourselves from cultural elements but by incorporating them into our way of life.

Things happening in January: Black and Whites Carnival

Dates: 2- 7 January

As a bonus we have also provided the names of some other festivals happening in other parts of the world at this time of the year.

  • Bikaner Camel Festival- India
  • Pongal- India.
  • Camel Wrestling Festival- Turkey
  • Voodoo Festival- Benin
  • Ati Atihan Festival- Philippines
  • Toka Ebisu- Japan
  • Up Helly Aa- Scotland.

Also View: Best Places To Visit In March

Image credits : Etienne Le CocqgordontouririsRincewind42எஸ்ஸார்

Published On: Tuesday, December 30th, 2014