Religious Events

Photograph: Supratik Chakraborty

Religious Events

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Baby Jumping Festival (El Colacho)

Baby Jumping Festival (El Colacho)

Ever harboured a secret desire to jump a baby? Then fear not, for you are not alone. In the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos, men dressed as the Devil (Colacho) leap babies in the street in a time-hounered ritual that forms part of the local Corpus Christi celebrations. Although it's origins are hazy, the ritual of El Colacho can be dated back 1620 and is said to cleanse the unknowing infants (who have all been born in the previous 12 months) of original sin. A balmy, baby baptism if ever we've seen one.

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Europe Spain Burgos Bizarre Festivals Religious Events June
Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead

On the night of November 1, Mexico's cemeteries come alive with prayers and song, as, in the glow of flickering candlelight, relatives make offerings of food, drink, toys and flowers at the gravesides of relatives passed. The celebration is known as the Day of the Dead (Dia de los Muertos). It's a fascinating fusion of ancient indigenous beliefs and Christian holy days which coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The first day is the Day of the Angels (Dia de los Angelitos), dedicated to children who have passed, whilst the second day remembers adult relatives. Children get excited weeks before El Dia de los Muertos as coffin- and skeleton-shaped sweets, special bread, candied pumpkin and papier mache skeleton puppets fill the shops and markets. Things really get going in Oaxaca on 31 October, when people create elaborate altars at home with offerings of favorite foods, tequila and cigars for dead relatives, along with an arch of brightly coloured flowers. Lively events take place in Oaxaca's main square, as well as in restaurants and many of the theatres throughout the city. People erect public altars with flower offerings. Shop owners join in the fun displaying papier mache and wax skeletons posed as macabre professionals at work or at play.

More Day of the Dead info...

North America Mexico Oaxaca Cultural Festivals Religious Events November
Diwali

Diwali

Coinciding with the darkest, new moon night of the Lunisolar month of Kartika — somewhere between mid-October and mid-November on the Gregorian calendar — the illuminating festival of Diwali (or Deepavali, the festival of lights) is celebrated the length and breadth of India and in many predominantly Hindu countries around the world. Diwali signifies the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair. The days leading up to Diwali see Hindus get to work as they clean, renovate and decorate their homes and offices. On the night of Diwali they don their finest attire before lighting diyas (lamps and candles), then praying to Lakshmi – the goddess of fertility and prosperity. The diyas are placed inside and outside of homes, providing an enchanting neighbourhood spectacle. Fireworks then light up the sky before families and close friends meet to enjoy a Diwali feast and exchange gifts.

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Asia India Religious Events October
Festival of Near Death Experiences

Festival of Near Death Experiences

Survived a near death experience in the past 12 months? Congratulations, you've earned the right to participate in one of Spain's more bizarre religious pilgrimages; la Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme. And the kicker is, you get to do it in a coffin. Come late July, thousands arrive in the tiny Galician town of Las Nieves to pay witness to a procession in honor of Saint Marta de Ribarteme, the patron saint of resurrection. Those near death survivors are loaded into coffins and travel the procession route borne by loved ones. Older men, those without family, lug their own coffins to Mass before the procession — overseen by a statue of the Virgin Santa Marta — continues on up the hill toward the local cemetery and back down to circle the Church.

More Festival of Near Death Experiences info...

Europe Spain Las Nieves Religious Events Bizarre Festivals July
Festival of the Virgin of Carmen

Festival of the Virgin of Carmen

Join the heaving throngs of devotees at the Festival of the Virgin of Carmen (the Patron Saint of Fisherman), held annually all over Spain and parts of Central and Southern America. At Puerto de la Cruz on the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife, thousands pay witness to the statue of the Virgin of Carmen along with a likeness of Saint Telmo as they make their journey from the local chapel to the fishing harbour. A fanfare announces their arrival at the waterfront from where they are taken to a decorated boat and sailed along the coast.

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Europe Spain Tenerife Religious Events Traditional Festivals July
Fete de Ganesh

Fete de Ganesh

Paris' 18th arrondissement takes on a touch of Mumbai for a day each August during the annual Hindu, Fête de Ganesh. Following a ceremony at the Sri Manicka Vinayakar Alayam Temple a colourful procession takes to the streets in a celebration of the elephant-headed and human-bodied Lord Ganesh — the Remover of Obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom.

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Europe France Paris Religious Events Street Parades August
Fiesta de la Virgen de Urqupinia

Fiesta de la Virgen de Urqupinia

If you like your festivals colourful, off the beaten track and with a pan-pipe back beat, then Bolivia's Fiesta de la Virgen de Urqupinia may well appeal. Each August since the 18th century, thousands have congregated in the village of Quillacollo for three days to perform vibrant rituals and acts of faith that display a unique combination of their Indian-Pagan and Christian beliefs.

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South America Bolivia Quillacollo Religious Events Traditional Festivals August
Flores de Mayo

Flores de Mayo

Across the Philippines the month of May marks the onset of the rainy season — a time when the tropical archipelago comes to life in a bloom of colour, and the nation celebrates by giving praise to the Virgin Mary. Locals gather the colourful flowers to decorate their church altars and aisles and bundle the blooms in exotic arrangements for the many different festivities that make up the Flowers of May. Communities congregate in the afternoons to pray, offer flowers to the Virgin Mary, share homemade local delicacies and dance to welcome the rain. The Santacruzan — an elaborate and colourful procession that takes place in many parishes — depicts the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena, mother of Constantine the Great.

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Asia Philippines Religious Events Flower Shows May
Hajj

Hajj

Each year from the 8th to 12th of Dhu al-Hijjah — the 12th and last month of the Islamic calendar — the Muslim faithful trace the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed to the Mount of Mercy outside Mecca on the annual pilgrimage of Hajj, the largest annual pilgrimage in the world. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation that must be carried out at least once in the lifetime by every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do so.

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Middle East Saudi Arabia Mecca Religious Events October
Holi

Holi

Holi, Hindu's vivacious celebration of colour is widely anticipated across the sweep of India and Nepal, and increasingly in many multicultural cities around the world. In the days leading up to Holi, locals gather firewood for bonfires in the parks and near temples. Atop the pyres sit an effigy representing Holika — a demoness in Hindu Vedic scriptures — who tricked Prahalad into the fire. The bonfire ritual known as Holika Dahan takes place on the evening before Holi and symbolises the victory of good over evil. On the day of Holi, things get messy. No-one is spared. Armed with a vivid array of brightly coloured powders, solutions and water-bombs, youths take the streets to paint the town red...and blue and pink and purple. Everyone is fair game. The mood is festive, the laughter infectious. At the end of the day, revellers bathe and prepare for an evening exchanging sweets with friends and relatives. Holi is a time to forgive and forget and to repair broken relationships. It's hard to argue those reasons for a celebration, irrespective of religion.

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Asia India Religious Events Cultural Festivals March
Kailash Saga Dawa Festival

Kailash Saga Dawa Festival

The Saga Dawa Festival commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha Sakyamuni. Pilgrims flock to Mount Kailash to replace the Tarboche flagpole, a huge pole that stands on the Kailash Kora, south of the mountain. The ceremony is led by a Lama from the nearby monastery and Tibetans and Buddhists gather to attach prayer flags they bring from home, to pray, and to help erect the new flagpole. Mount Kailash marks the centre of the Earth for Buddhists, for whom it's the abode of Demchok, the wrathful manifestation of Buddha Sakyamuni. The mountain is also the place where the great rivers of South Asia, including the Ganges, originate. The Saga Dawa Festival focuses on worshiping Buddha in the inner, middle and outer parts of Lhasa. The grandest event occurs on 15 April when Buddhist followers walk around the outer part of Lhasa, reciting scriptures as they traverse the perimeter. Passing by mulberry stoves or fires, they add cypress branches, mugwort, Chinese photinia or zamba to them. At intersections of roads, they remove their hats to bow towards the direction of the Potala Palace. In the afternoon, they gather at Zongjolukang (Dragon King's Pool) at the back of the Red Hill, where they boat, sing and dance.

More Kailash Saga Dawa Festival info...

Asia Tibet Lhasa Religious Events Cultural Festivals June
Kumbh Mela

Kumbh Mela

Marvel as millions (100 million over the 45 days of the Maha Kumbh Mela in 2013) of Hindus come together for the largest, most colourful gathering in the world, Kumbh Mela. Four times every 12 years this mass Hindu Pilgrimage rotates between four locations in India: Allahabad (Prayag) at the confluence of the Ganga and Yamuna and mythical Saraswati River, Haridwar on the Ganga River, Ujjain along the Kshipra River and Nashik on the Godavari River. It truly is a spectale beyond scope and a once in a lifetime event for anyone who attends, regardless of religion.

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Asia India Allahabad Religious Events Varies
Lord of the Miracles Procession

Lord of the Miracles Procession

Each year Peru plays host to literally thousands of religious processions and festivals. The largest and arguably most spectacular of these is the annual Lord of the Miracles Procession, which sees tens of thousands of devotees take to the streets of Lima to carry a painting of Señor de los Milagros — The Lord of Miracles, also known as the Purple Christ — between the Church of Las Nazarenas to the Church of La Merced in Barrios Altos. The painting is reputed to have been created by an Angolan slave in 1651 on a wall where the church of Las Nazarenas stands. Despite irreparable damage being done to the surrounding area of the Church of Las Nazarenas over the centuries — including an earthquake in 1746 which levelled the surrounding buildings — the painting survived. Each October since the 18th century a religious brotherhood has arranged an annual procession of the painting in honour of the Lord of the Miracles. During the procession, male devotees organised into squads of bearers carry the icon through the streets of Central Lima. The procession sees tens of thousands of purple tunic clad believers take to the streets, sing hymns and pray as the two ton painting is held aloft during its journey. The procession also marks the beginning of the Lima Bullfight season. At the Acho Arena in Lima local toreadors compete for the highly prized, Golden Cape of Our Lord of Miracles.

More Lord of the Miracles Procession info...

South America Peru Lima Religious Events Street Parades October
National Voodoo Day

National Voodoo Day

The Atlantic coast city of Ouidah in Benin plays host to the country's drum fuelled and colourful National Voodoo Day celebrations each January. Followers gather at a beach known as the point of no return, where slaves once departed on ships bound for the Americas. Attendees in colourful local dress dance, drum and pray as animals are sacrified in ceremonies which honour the spiritual forces of natural phenomena such as water, fire, earth and air. The once-banned religion has a strong following in Benin with an estimated 65% of the population believing in Voodoo.

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Africa Benin Ouidah Religious Events Traditional Festivals January
Phuket Vegetarian Festival

Phuket Vegetarian Festival

The southern Thai island of Phuket serves up a smorgasbord of strange during their world-renowned, annual Vegetarian Festival. The history of the event is a little hazy, but legend has it that in the 19th century a band of travelling Chinese Opera singers visiting the island contracted malaria, a death sentence in the day. By adhering to a strict vegetarian diet and praying to the nine Emperor Gods for purification of the mind and body, they all made a miraculous recovery. To celebrate, they held a festival. Today, that event attracts thousands of visitors from near and far. Whilst there is a vegetarian element to the nine day festivities — held during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar — it's the ceremonies held to invoke the Gods that so captivate western attendees. Entranced devotees known as "Ma Song" walk barefoot over hot coals, plunge knives and skewers of all shapes and dimensions through various parts of their body and ascend ladders with bladed rungs. Even though there's very little blood, it's not an event for the squeamish. At the very least, you'll never look at a kebab the same way again.

More Phuket Vegetarian Festival info...

Asia Thailand Phuket Religious Events Bizarre Festivals October
Saint Lucia's Day

Saint Lucia's Day

Annually on the 13th December, residents of Helsinki rug up and and take to the streets around the capital's Senate Square for a procession that venerates Saint Lucia. The tradition of Saint Lucia's Day is based on the legend of the virgin-martyr who was killed in Syracuse, Sicily during the persecutions of the Christians in 304 AD. Saint Lucia's Day is celebrated predominantly in Italy and amongst the Scandinavian nations, where it is tied in with raising money for charity. The Helsinki procession begins when a white-clad figure with a crown of candles, representing Lucia emerges from the Helsinki Cathedral. She then leads a procession including singers and Santa Claus through the streets of the capital.

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Europe Finland Helsinki Religious Events Street Parades December
Semana Santa

Semana Santa

Although Semana Santa (Holy Week) celebrations take place over the length and breadth of Spain, Seville's are arguably the country's most spectacular. For eight days, from Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday, 115 spectacular processions of pasos — ornate wooden floats featuring scenes from the events of the Passion or recreations of a grieving Virgin Mary — make their way from Seville's churches through the city's streets to the city's main Cathedral. The honoured task of supporting the pasos on their journey — some weighing in at more than two tonnes — rests upon the broad shoulders of some 60,000 hooded men who belong to more than 55 church brotherhoods. The floats are accompanied by Nazarenos — often barefoot, dressed in a habit and and a pointed hood (capirote) who march along with the pasos in silence. Semana Santa climaxes on the night of Holy Thursday, when a number of processions set out to arrive at Seville's main Cathedral on the dawn of Good Friday. Although there's an obvious solemn undertone that pervades Seville during Semana Santa, it is a wonderful time to be in the city and take in the power of the celebrations.

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Europe Spain Seville Religious Events Cultural Festivals March
St. Valentine's Day (Terni)

St. Valentine's Day (Terni)

Get all loved up with the people of Terni, the birthplace and resting place of Roman Catholic martyr, Saint Valentine. Throughout the month of February, and especially on February 14, St. Valentine's Day, the people of Terni celebrate their saintly son with art exhibitions, concerts, poetry readings, sporting events, the chance for engaged and married couples to make or remake vows, special masses and fireworks.

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Europe Italy Terni Religious Events February
Virgin of Suyapa Festival

Virgin of Suyapa Festival

The grandiose Basilica de Suyapa in Tegucigalpa plays host to one of Central America's smallest, yet most adored statues — the Virgin of Supaya, the patron saint of Honduras. Standing at a little over 2 inches tall the Virgin of Supaya is worshipped with a fervour inversely proportional to her diminutive stature. Each February 3rd pilgrims flock to Tegucigalpa to grab a glimpse of the statue and celebrate her name day.

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Central America Honduras Tegucigalpa Religious Events Traditional Festivals February
Whirling Dervishes Festival

Whirling Dervishes Festival

The 13th century Sufi poet, Celaleddin Rumi (Mevlâna) is widely considered one of the world's great mystic philosophers. His religious writings and poetry are highly respected the world over by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. One of Mevlâna's core beliefs was that it was possible to attain union with God through dance. Following his death on 17 December 1273 (known today as his wedding night with Allah), Mevlâna's followers formed the Mevlevi brotherhood — known more widely as the whirling dervishes — with the trance-like whirling dance at the heart of their worship ceremonies. Each December, the ancient city of Konya, in the Central Anatolia Region of Turkey draws scores of visitors from around the world to witness the beguiling Whirling Dervishes in action during the annual, Mevlâna Festival.

More Whirling Dervishes Festival info...

Europe Turkey Konya Traditional Festivals Religious Events December

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