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Build your family vacation around a world cultural celebration

Cultural festivals, like this Heiva parade in Tahiti,

Cultural festivals, like this Heiva parade in Tahiti, are a great way to learn about the local culture of the country you are visiting. Photo Credit: Alamy / Hemis

Historic festivals and cultural celebrations around the world provide expansive experiences for travelers. Here are three to consider: 

1. Nyepi, Bali. While many celebrate a New Year with fireworks and frivolity, the Balinese choose to cleanse the spirit, meditate and bask in silence on Nyepi, or Silent Day. On Nyepi Eve, observe local villagers as they play music, dance and parade colorful, handcrafted “monster dolls” through the streets. During the 24 hours of silence that follows, Bali’s airport, seaports, roads and businesses are closed, steeping the island in a magical, pristine quiet. Ease into the day with morning yoga at the Four Season’s Jimbaran Bay’s peaceful, oceanfront pavilion. At the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan guests are invited to join in a meditation under the stars aside the rooftop lotus pond. The next Silent Day is March 25, 2020. 

INFO fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay; fourseasons.com/sayan

2. Heiva, Tahiti. The 137-year old Celebration of Life, an annual, monthlong festival of Polynesian song and dance, gets underway each July. Singers and dance troupes from 118 Tahitian islands gather for an annual competition highlighting ancestral traditions and legends. Live music accompanies the contenders, using traditional instruments such as the nasal flute or “vivo,” marine shells or “pu,” and more recently, the ukulele. With meaningful choreography and costumes, it’s considered the centerpiece of the festival. Visitors can also take in traditional sports and games — expect a stone-lifting competition, a javelin-throwing event, “va’a” (outrigger canoe) races, a copra competition and a fruit-carrying contest.

INFO heiva.org

3. Obon, Japan. Obon, a “matsuri,” or Japanese festival, is held each summer to honor the ancestors’ spirits and to welcome them back for a brief visit with the living. A 500-year-old tradition in Japan, the festival begins as small lanterns are lit to guide the spirits home. There are offerings of food to nourish the spirits, either at household altars or at food stalls lining the streets. A most memorable sight is “bon odori,” the traditional dances that take place around a “yagura” (raised platform). Thousands wear “yukata,” a lighter summer kimono, dancing to the beat of the taiko drums. 

INFO us.jnto.go.jp/top/index.php

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