Getting festive at the end of the year doesn’t have to be all about mulled wine and Santa photo ops. These festivals may fall over the holidays, but there’s nothing Christmassy about them.—Kristy Alpert
Carnavale de Quebec
WHERE: Quebec City, Canada
The Carnaval de Quebec started in 1894 as a way for settlers to spin the harsh “New France” winters into a time of celebration. It has grown into the largest winter festival in the world, where the celebration begins the instant the Mayor of Quebec turns the keys to the city over to the festival’s jovial ambassador Bonhomme, a giant snowman. The fairgrounds become a winter playground for the festival, with ice carving competitions, an ice castle, games, sledding, and chilling events like the annual Snow Bath.
Art Basel Miami
WHERE: Miami Beach, Miami, United States
Although Art Basel is centered around the main showroom inside the Miami Beach Convention Center, this contemporary art festival has taken over the city with more than 20 satellite fairs popping up all over Miami. Art Basel is foremost about the art and artists, but chic after-parties and exclusive events have become a huge draw for anyone attending this design-driven festival.
Taste of Auckland
WHERE: Auckland, New Zealand
New Zealand’s breezy spring season is the perfect setting for the annual Taste of Auckland festival. 2016’s line-up included hands-on cooking sessions with world-class chefs, exclusive tastings from local restaurants, live music, special VIP experiences, and a marketplace showcasing the best products from New Zealand’s top fine food producers, wine makers, distillers, and craft brewers.
WHERE: Les Deux Alpes, France
Ski in and rock out at this mountaintop music festival. Each year the French Alps become the venue for Rise Festival, where numerous bands perform throughout the week during daytime jam sessions at the top of the slopes, nightly concerts on the mountain, and secret parties held around secluded campfires.
WHERE: Cologne, Germany
Although the Cologne Carnival really heats up after the quiet Advent season has passed, the festivities kick off on November 11 at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock. On that day, locals dress up and head to the Heumarkt to hear the festival’s official musicians debut the year’s carnival songs. Open-air concerts last through the night, with plenty of kölsch (local beer) and bützje (harmless kisses on the cheek).
Burning The Clocks
WHERE: Brighton, United Kingdom
The people of Brighton began this fiery festival in 1994 as a way to celebrate the Winter Solstice. Now more than 20,000 people show up each year to Burning the Clocks, where participants light paper or willow lanterns and set them off amidst a massive bonfire on Brighton Beach while live bands perform and fireworks explode in the night sky.
WHERE: Chiang Mai, Thailand
Yi Peng (or Yee Peng) is often referred to as the Thai Festival of Lights, and is held every year on the night of the full moon of the twelfth lunar month. On the main day of the festival, hundreds gather in Chiang Mai to ignite paper lanterns (khom loi) and launch them into the night sky in a symbolic gesture to rid themselves of bad luck and misfortune.
WHERE: Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India
This holy festival is celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs, and Jains all over India each year on the full moon (or on the fifteenth lunar day of Kartika). One of the most iconic places to celebrate this holy day is in Varanasi, where hundreds of pilgrims make their way to the banks of the Ganga River to take a ritual bath before lighting small earthen lamps and sending them to float down the river.
Fete des Lumineres
WHERE: Lyon, France
The Fete des Lumieres dates back to 1852 when villagers lit small candles in their windowsills before heading to Fourviere Hill to see the new statue of the Virgin Mary. The tradition continues annually on the same day, only now it’s grown into a stage for light designers and artists to create stunning shows and vibrant LED art displayed on buildings during the three nights of this festival.
Grand Cayman Pirate Week
WHERE: The Cayman Islands
Each year in November, thousands of pirates swarm the shores of the Cayman Islands to take part in Pirates Week. The festival kicks off with the pirates “capturing” the Governor in George Town harbor before running wild throughout the islands with friendly competitions, live music, parades, traditional food and drinks, and more.
Amsterdam Light Festival
When: December – January
WHERE: Amsterdam, Netherlands
The Amsterdam Light Festival celebrates its fifth season this year as artists from around the world gather to light up their abstract creations across the city. The art is separated on two themed paths, Illuminade (the walking route) and Water Colors (the boat route), and includes every type of light art imaginable, from oversized illuminated objects to interactive displays.
Jamaican World Cannabis Cup
WHERE: Negril, Jamaica
What started in 1987 as a harvest party has grown into the world’s most attended marijuana festival. The High Times World Cannabis Cup takes place along Seven Mile Beach, where only those 18 and older can enter into this hazy world of Rastafari culture, lifestyle, and tradition.
WHERE: Tbilisi, Georgia
The story of the Tbilisi Jazz Festival dates back to the restrictive days of the USSR, when many locals took to buying and even making bootleg vinyl records to bypass the Soviet-banned music list. The first festival was held in 1978 as the “All-Soviet Jazz Festival,” but it wasn’t until after the fall of the Soviet Union that the festival became what it is today. The four-day festival attracts famous jazz and blues musicians from around the world to perform at this historic event.
Sundance Film Festival
WHERE: Park City, Utah
Now more than 30 years old, the Sundance Film Festival is the largest independent film festival in the United States. It was born from Robert Redford’s nonprofit organization, the Sundance Institute, and continues today to give a platform to new filmmakers during a week of movie screenings and late night parties.