Photograph by Kyodo News/AP
From the National Geographic book Sacred Places of a Lifetime
Noche de la Primavera, Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City welcomes the arrival of spring in style. All through the night, the streets and plazas pulse with music and dancing. Mexican folk rhythms mingle with Latino pop, while acrobats, theater troupes, and animators entertain the revelers until dawn.www.visitmexico.com
Noche de Brujas, Veracruz, Mexico
Catemaco’s annual celebration, the Night of the Witches, is a spectacle of all things magical. Witches, wizards, fortune-tellers, and healers gather together, stalls are set up, and the streets bustle with activity. For the right money, you can cast a spell, bestow a curse, or cure your ills with herbs.catemaco.info/activities/brujos/index.html
New Year’s Eve, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
On the last night of the year, more than two million revelers flock to Copacabana Beach to watch the fireworks and dance the samba. Just before midnight the locals, dressed mostly in white, cast out offerings to Iemanjá, the Goddess of the Sea. Perfume, flowers, and rice are set adrift in paper boats while thousands of floating candles light up the night sky.www.ipanema.com
Chichibu Yomatsuri, Chichibu City, Japan
Six ornate floats, each representing one of the city’s protective gods and decorated with lanterns, tapestries, and carvings, are hauled on ropes by hundreds of chanting devotees toward the city hall. Stalls selling snacks and rice wine line the crowded streets, and fireworks blast colors through the black skies.www.jnto.go.jp
Lantern Festival, China
On the 15th night of the first month of the new Chinese year, towns and villages across China are bathed in the glow of lanterns. Traditional red-paper globes take their place among illuminated butterflies, dragons, and birds, each posted with a riddle–those who solve the puzzles win a prize.www.chinavoc.com
New Year’s Eve in Vietnam, where families await midnight with expectation, is a time of renewal. Houses are swept clean and festooned with colorful decorations. Those who stay at home whisper prayers for their ancestors, while in the parks, there are celebratory firework displays. Throughout the country the troubles of the past year are forgotten.www.thingsasian.com/stories-photos/1253
The Night of Salvation falls in Sha’aban, the eighth month of the Islamic calendar. It is a time for the faithful to repent to Allah and seek pardons for their sins. Some spend the night at the mosque, others visit the cemetery to pray for the departed. It is also a time for fasting.members.tripod.com/worldupdates/newupdates10/id69.htm
The residents of the Latvian town of Kuldiga mark the start of midsummer, or Jani, by running naked through the streets. Elsewhere, they don crowns of flowers or oak leaves and celebrate with medicinal Jani-herbs and bonfires. These are lit before sunset and stoked until dawn. Specially prepared straw torches are used to drive away evil spirits.
San Juan, Spain
During the Festival of San Juan, Spain is ablaze with fire and music fills the streets. People spend the afternoon building bonfires that burn throughout the night to welcome in the summer. According to tradition, jumping over a bonfire three times on San Juan night will burn all your troubles away.www.donquijote.org/culture/spain/fiestas/sanjuan.asp
Summer Solstice, Glastonbury, England
Glastonbury Tor (or hill) has been sacred for millennia, its legend dating back to Arthurian times. Now this mystical hill, rising strangely above its flat surroundings, is a focal point for the Druid community and the setting for their solstice ceremony. On Midsummer’s Eve, hundreds of people gather on the Tor in a circle–children throw petals, holy water is sprinkled, and the service is blessed with fire.
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