World Festivals January

Exotic Festivals January Listing: Nara burning fields, Kyoto, Japan

World festivals January: Burning the fields in Yamayaki around Nara and Kyoto, Japan, the 4th week of January. Photo by Taro

World Festivals dates and event information

This calendar is mostly about world heritage events in Exotic Places. Generally we do not list European or American festivals here.

World festivals January

2 – 7 January
(same date each year)

COLOMBIA, Pasto, Black and Whites’ Carnival (Carnaval de Negros y Blancos) – a manic and messy tradition marking slave culture; dating back to 1912 this is one of South America’s oldest and most vivid celebrations.
People go crazy painting themselves black one day and white the next, with a Grand Parade somewhere down the line.

January – February

CHINA, Harbin Ice Festival & Chinese New Year – including magnificent, monstrous illuminated ice sculptures and icy sports. Beware extreme cold, averaging -16C and possibly down to -38C!
China Map  Harbin Festival Pictures

mid January

INDIA, Bikaner Camel Festival at Bikaner, Rajasthan – much less touristy than February’s Desert Festival, but in an equally gorgeous fortified desert town location with colourful camel activities, including a camel beauty competition, but human fun stuff too, dancing, fireworks, music etc. India Travel Guide

mid January

PHILIPPINES, Ati-Atihan Festival, Aklan, Kalibo, Panay Island – a 2 week-long vivid religious carnival/feast annually held since 13th century in honour of the Santo Niño (Baby Jesus). If you missed the event try Dinagyang in Iloilo City a week later.

early January

JAPAN, Toka Ebisu nationwide, but especially shrines in Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka – a grand shinto festival which has been running since the Edo Period (17th – 19th Century) to pray for business success with parades and lots of peculiar rituals. The most popular event takes place in Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in Osaka.

9 January
(every year)

PHILIPPINES, Manila, Quiapo, Black Nazarene – a 400 year-old Catholic procession with a black life-sized wooden statue of Jesus Christ, held annually since the 17th century and dedicated to Padre Jesus Nazareno de Quiapo, Father Jesus Nazarene of Quiapo.

10 January (annually)

BENIN, Voodoo Festival in seaside town of Ouidah, located 42 km west of Cotonou city – a spiritual gathering at a beach to honour slave ancestors, with colourful costumes, chanting, dancing, drinking gin and religious ceremonies.

January,  February and March

INDIA, Kumbh Mela, the prime Hindu pilgrimage destination with worshippers gathering once every 3 years at one of these four places to take a sacred bath.

In rotation: the banks of the Godavari river in Nasik; the Kshipra river in Ujjain; The River Ganges in Haridwar; the Sangam of Ganges, Yamuna and Saraswati in Allahabad.

It is not only the biggest religious assembly but also recorded as the the largest peaceful human gathering with about 100 million visitors, though pilgrim stampedes in India are not uncommon, with large numbers of fatalities. India Travel Guide

Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India, Exotic festivals January

Kumbh Mela, Haridwar, India. Photo by Coupdoeil.

14 January
every year

INDIA, International Kite Festival. A zillion kites and fights in the lovely but busy cities of Jaipur or Ahmedabad, Rajasthan state.

mid January

INDIA, Pongal Festival (Tamil Festival), a 4 day harvest celebration in Tamil Nadu, a southern state of India. This thanks-giving feast is one of the most important and popular Hindu Festival. It is also the month of weddings.

3rd Sunday of January

TURKEY, Camel Wrestling Championship – this medieval tradition takes place in Selcuk town near the ancient city of Ephesus, with 1, 200 camels and thousands of spectators. The camels wrestle, not humans vs. camels! Turkey Travel Guide, Selcuk & Ephesus Pictures

19 January

ETHIOPIA, Timkat Festival (Epiphany), an Orthodox Christian festival to celebrate the Baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, with strange rituals and psychedelic processions.

Takes place throughout the country, but the greatest is Fasilidas’ Bath in Gonder, the former capital.

4th Saturday in January

JAPAN, Yamayaki (Grass Burning on Mt. Wakakusayama), Nara. An annual New Year tradition with spectacular burning of an entire hill and attendant fireworks. Nara Pictures, Japan Map

The full moon in the month of Thai (January/February).
The procession starts the night before.

MALAYSIA, Thaipusam (also known as Murugan Festival),  a celebration of the birth of god Murugan, in the Batu Caves near Kuala Lumpur over 8 hours.

There is a massive and bizarre Hindu procession into the caves, with many penitents pierced by hooks and skewers through various body parts.

Similarly in Singapore on the same day but no major piercings allowed there. Malaysia Travel Guide, Batu Caves photos and more information

26 – 29 January
(Same day every year)

INDIA, Republic Day (26th) celebration in Delhi – a pompous but splendid parade with marching soldiers and bands, traditional dancers, floats from different states.

The last Tuesday in January

SCOTLAND, Shetland Islands, Up Helly Aa – ‘Europe’s largest fire festival’, a spectacular community tradition celebrating their rich Viking heritage, annually held in Lerwick, Shetland.

Costume marches, torchlight parades, burning a viking boat and the parties go on and on long after the last flames fade away. Islands Pictures

2 – 11 February

PERU, Candelaria Festival (Virgen de la Candelaria) in Puno, not a pretty city but with amazing surroundings such as Lake Titicaca and the Altiplano.

This colourful, local event offers vigorous dancing, music, masks and insane fireworks. And Cusco’s not far by splendid train ride.