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Just because it’s cold, doesn’t mean the fun’s over. Here’s your essential guide to having a good time hotting up 2012. Words AZZAM ALKADHI

Summer isn’t the only festival season – in Europe, winter is arguably the better time of year to get involved with local tradition; be that throwing oranges at each other, setting fire to the city, or dancing to Basement Jaxx in the snow. Here’s our pick of dates for your diary.

Las Fallas, Valencia, March 15-19

Why? This fiery fiesta embodies the Spanish appetite for celebration. Valencia’s five-day-long party has the city swell to three times its normal population, as tourists flock in their thousands to join in with the festivities. But for the local communities, preparations for the event are year-round, as each neighbourhood works to create
the most impressive ninots: papier mache works of art that double as a satirical stab at anyone – politicians, celebrities, etc – who has drawn the disdain of the Valencians that year. After the ninots are paraded through the town, the festival culminates in setting these firework-filled effigies on fire. Originally, the whole shebang began as the feast day for St Joseph, but has since become a raucous orgy of bullfights, parades, paella contests, beauty pageants and fireworks.

Money shot: The ceremonial burning of the ninots is a gloriously timed spectacle, which lights up the whole city. Don’t stop snapping.

See: lasfallas.net
 

Big Snow Festival, Serbia, March 23-29

Why? The Big Snow team has joined forces with the organisers of Serbia’s major music festival, Exit, to bring slamming tunes to the slopes. This winter carnival of snowsports, live music and all-night parties is moving from its original home of Arinsal in Andorra this year, as the event has grown too big for the resort. Relocated to the mountains of Kopaonik, Big Snow provides the perfect blend of music and powder, for a week of adrenalin-fuelled fun. There are ski runs to suit every level, cheap lift passes and even floodlights for night skiing. The tunes will be spinning from the hands of international DJs including Judge Jules and Freestylers.

Money shot: This year’s headline act is Basement Jaxx, so squeeze to the front and get the perfect pic.

See: thebigsnowfestival.com

 

Ivrea Carnival, Italy, February 18-21

Why? Built on anarchic values and a belief in liberty, Ivrea’s carnival celebrates the moment the city was freed from the tyrannical grasp of a baron by a humble miller’s daughter who chopped off his head and roused the people to revolt. The fight for freedom remains at the heart of proceedings.

Money shot: Prepare yourself for a citrus soaking as the city descends into a massive orange fight. Why? Some say that the oranges are meant to represent the baron’s chopped-off head, but it hardly matters – the point of the event is simple: fooood fiiiight!! You’re welcome to enrol in a local team if you fancy taking part; if spectating is more your thing, don
a red hat – it signifies that you’re a revolutionary, so you won’t get pelted. Think of it as a warm up for La Tomatina
in summer.

See: festivalpig.com
 

Strong Beer Festival, Munich, March 9-25

Why? Sort of like Oktoberfest without the tourists, the Strong Beer Festival dates back to 1751, about 100 years after the Paulaner monks of Munich started brewing their now famous Salvator beer. Legend has it that the thick, strong beer was created to sustain them during Lent. Munich’s legendary beer halls fill up to bursting point with red-nosed revellers enjoying the many local brews and, of course, piles of pork sausages. Be warned: these malty brews will sneak up on even the most experienced boozers.

Money shot: Buxom beer wenches carrying up to 10 steins of strong beer in each hand at a time.

See: beerfestivals.org


 

Patras Carnival, Greece, January 17-February 27

Why? Greece claims to be the birthplace of the carnival, with the first references to anything resembling a parade float apparently coming in 500BC when a statue of Dionysus was carried from his temple as part of the opening ceremony of a stage drama. Whatever the history, the Patras Carnival is a colourful and fascinating affair, with balls, parades and treasure hunts spanning a six-week period. With strong French and Italian influences from past occupations, there is a unique vibe to this carnival that sets it apart from other Greek celebrations.

Money shot: The last weekend of the carnival is when it all kicks off. The Grand Parade on Sunday sees 300,000 people dancing in the streets and admiring the hundreds of floats and costumed groups, before the ceremonial burning of the float of the Carnival King. (It seems Europeans just love seeing shit on fire).

See: carnifest.com
 

St Patrick’s Day, Dublin, March 17

Why? This Irish national holiday is probably the most widely celebrated saint’s day in the world – everyone wants to be Irish on March 17 and it’s easy to see why. It’s not just about the Guinness – although you can be sure the black stuff will form the core of any Paddy’s day festivities – but about celebrating Irish identity (you’ll hear a lot more Irish being spoken by proud natives around this time). The piss-up element also has a history of sorts – it represents the lifting of Lentern restrictions on food and booze otherwise required around this time. As part of the event, Dublin will host various street theatres, comedy nights, and Irish music.

Money shot: If you haven’t boozed yourself into a blind stupor, you won’t want to miss the main parade in Dublin. About half a million people line the 1.5-mile route to see the floats. Dancers and musicians keep the crowds entertained and the party lasts all day and well into the night.

See: stpatricksfestival.ie
 

Venice Carnival, Venice, February 11-21

Why? Masked balls in Venice date back to the 13th century and have formed an important part of Venetian history over the years. The carnival has changed from the days when international dignitaries would come to the city to enjoy the wild party, letting their hair down by gambling, visiting brothels or being wowed by exotic animals and circus performers. Nowadays, it’s really just an excuse to get tourists to come and take part in gimmicky, but still enjoyable, balls and parties.

Money shot: The use of masks was designed to transcend social classes and allowed Venetians from all walks of life to mingle and socialise. Every year there is a contest for the best mask, voted for by a jury of international designers. You’ll be amazed by the lengths people go to for the perfect mask.

See: venicecarnival.com

 

Winter Warmers

Fancy a winter festival with a splash of sun? Try these festivities further afar …

Rio Carnival, Brazil – Feb 17-21

Probably the world’s most famous carnival, with two million people hitting the streets every day in an orgy of samba, caipirinha and costumes. (rio-carnival.net)

La Diablada, Bolivia – Feb 17-20

Every year, the small mining town of Oruro erupts into colour and noise as locals dress up as devils, demons or Spanish conquistadors to dance, sing and have massive water fights. (ladiabladadeoruro.com)

Trinidad Carnival – Feb 20-21

Think Notting Hill, but better. Calypso and Soca music accompany massive floats, dance displays, stick fights and limbo competitions. (gotrinidadandtobago.com)

Goa Carnival, india – Feb 18-21

Started by the Portuguese Christians who ruled the island in the 1500s, the carnival has since absorbed elements of Hindu tradition to create a truly unique mix of western dance, Indian music and delicious food. (carnivalgoa.com)


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Winter festivals - Europe's coolest parties
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