Winter's colorful carnivals

Europe, Japan and Taiwan are preparing their traditional winter's festivals.

carnival brazil 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
carnival brazil 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
As one part of the planet is getting ready for the summer's carnivals, Europe, Japan and Taiwan are preparing their traditional winter's festivals. Venice's world famous carnival, which began on January 25, is drawing to its February 5 close. Dating back to 1268, it revolves around the presentation of masks and magnificent costumes on which participants work diligently for months. Street actors portraying dramatic or comic characters fill the city's squares; orchestral music swirls; visitors gasp. Many of the participants are theater students from northern Italy seizing the opportunity to perform before real crowds. Other festival focal points, meanwhile, include: Basel, Switzerland The Fasnacht festival lasts from 4 a.m. on Monday morning, February 11, to 4 a.m. on Thursday, February 13. Most of the action in this traditional festival is concentrated in the city center and most of its performances and events revolve around noise, intended to scare off the winter and invite in the spring. One of the festival's competitions involves two groups of musicians walking toward each other while playing their instruments. The aim: to force the rival group to play out of tune. Nice, France The annual carnival awakens the Riviera city each February and attracts more than a million visitors over its two week run, this year from February 16 to March 2. Among the attractions are colorful daily events such as flower parades, traditional float processions and fireworks displays. While this is a family-oriented festival, many of the events continue late into the nights with theater, live bands and DJ sets. The carnival's origins go back to the Middle Ages when it was a Lent celebration during which revelers wore masks to preserve their anonymity, thus allowing merrymakers to let their hair down, an element that is still kept alive. The theme for this 124th carnival is "king of bats, cats, rats and other legendary creatures." Taipei, Taiwan The suburban town of Pingsi, hometown of President Chen Shui-bian, celebrates its annual Heavenly Lantern Festival from February 21 through March 2. During the event, hundreds of lit lanterns are released, creating an incredible sight. A bustling market and street entertainment accompany the event. An 18-meter-high, 25 metric ton lantern in the shape of a rat will welcome the Year of the Rat in Solar City, on 7.5 hectares in the Southern Taiwan Science Park. Taipei's Tourism Bureau will hand out more than 100,000 small, free lanterns for children and other visitors. Sapporo, Japan The Snow Festival, from February 5 to February 11, attracts more than 2 million visitors a year from Japan and abroad. The tradition started in 1950 when a few local students built six snow statues in Odori Park to amuse themselves. Since then, it has evolved into one of Japan's largest winter events in which hundreds of massive ice sculptures and snow statues take over the park, the grounds at Satoland and the main street in Suskino. Wandering amid the ice dragons, demons, pyramids, castles and more is accompanied by musical shows, and visitors can use the opportunity to get to know the island of Hokkaido, fast becoming a hot destination for skiing and snowboarding.