The cool month of January is one of introspection for the human spirit as temperature in most parts of the world dip into the icy cold of winter. January, the first month of the new year was named after Janus, a god of Roman mythology who possessed 2 faces, one in front and one at the back of his head.
Two-faced Janus of Roman mythology was a mythical guardian of portals and a patron of beginnings and endings, both markers of time in the Roman calendar. The first day of the new year is observed with gaiety and noise in most countries from Algeria to the Netherlands to Russia to Zimbabwe, as the first day of another cycle of 12 months. In some countries however, such as Cameroon, Haiti, Palau, Western Samoa, Burma and Sudan, people celebrate the end of foreign domination at Independence Day. Zaire marks the first day with memories for their martyrs of freedom in festivals. In Rwanda, Africa, the first of the month is dedicated to remember democracy gained, while in India, a republic day is observed with festivities and fireworks. In Taiwan, the first of January is set aside to mark the founding of democratic Republic of China.
In Burma, a remote unspoiled country, pagoda festivals around Buddha’s pagoda start and run into several days of non-stop festivities, market, and carnivals honoring him. Back-packing is popular in this golden land, where people come from near and far to join in festivities, to honor Buddha, Myanmar lunar calendar lists each month with only 28 days, counted in sequence of the waning or waxing of the moon, the number of days for pagoda festivals. In Burma, tourists discover at the city center of Yangon exciting museum pieces at the National Museum, and may view the Chaukhtgyi, a colossal reclining Buddha, the Karawek hall, and a royal barge on the royal lake. Trip to Helo, the famous Inle lake is a 30 km. drive from there. At the lake, tourists enjoy floating gardens, the floating weaving village of Impawkon, and a unique monastery for training cats to jump. At Inle lake, a water world, residence of Intha people one of the more magical and dazzling of Asian places, the Phaung Da Oo pagoda festival runs 18 days, with4 Buddha images out of the 5 in processing and are taken out on a royal barge towed by boats of leg-rowers with hundreds of devotees aboard. A one-and-a-half hour drive from the lake, in the quiet small town of Pindaya, tourists come to the caves where centuries old Buddha images of all sizes are found, some deposited in niches on wall, and some carved out of walls. Of Southeast Asia’s exotic religions and beliefs, one of the more venerable place of worship, is the Buddhist Shwedagon pagoda.
On the 8th month of the lunar calendar, Tazaungmon, there is nothing but blue skies and fresh cool breeze as winter begins, and continues deep into January. Myanmar festivals in Burma, include the colorful Kyauk-taw-gyi and Phaung-Daw-Oo pagoda, Taunggyi hot air balloon, the Myanmar new year water festivals and the Kathina robe offering ceremony, elephant dancing in Kyause, a small town near the Mandalay, where the centerpiece of activity is the Kyause elephant dance festival. While elephants are not real, but are made of cloth and paper material, two men inside the animal maché make animated gestures, mimicking elephant behavior. Accompanied by bands who provide music with drums, cymbals, flutes and musical instruments, the elephant slowly proceeds in procession around the town. In a pagoda festival in Mandalay, the last royal capital of Myanmar kings, a Buddha image carved out of one piece of marble sits in a pagoda. Buddha is honored with magical and theatrical shows amid with many food stalls. A splendid sight to tourists and onlookers, dances and boat races interest foreign tourists who come to see the unusual leg-rowing of boats through the lake, the only one of its kind in the world. The Shwedagon pagoda, shaped like a graceful bell structure built in the mid-11th century is a prototype of later stupas of Myanmar, the holy tooth, color bone and where frontlet relics of Buddha are enshrined. According to scholars and beliefs, the pagoda was completed in 7 months and 7 days, with Myanmar devotees trusting that wishes shall be fulfilled if homage is paid to the tooth relics within the day. Young and old people stroll around the pagoda during the 23-day festival to enjoy the dance, drama, theatrical, puppet or magic shows, buy local products from one of many stalls, and have a taste of food from many stalls selling a variety of home cooked food.
In China, folks celebrate the China and the Ice Lantern festivals, while an Ice festival is held in Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang province. In Harbin in Manchuria, the northern part of China across a border from Russia’s Siberia, artists sculpt figures made of blocks of ice, chain-sawed from nearby Songhua river. Replicas of the oniondomed Russian church carved out of ice with neon tubes of purple, pink, blue, green woven into the inside of the ice, shine with colors giving the building a glow. Other figures sculptured are animals, mythical figures, world famous cathedrals, pyramids, palaces, buildings in parks, the Great Wall of China or copies of art works, and frozen roses, sculptured in giant sizes. Teams of sculptors come all the way from Britain, Malaysia and the US to join this winter wonderful of ice sculptures. In other parts of the globe, skiing festivals occur on mountain slopes as in the Charmonix Mont Blanc and the Verte perte in Les Houches in Charmonix valley in France, the Krangska Gora world cup skiing in Slovenia, the Innsbruck Skiing, the Cortina d’Ampezzo world cup skiing event in Italy, and on the slopes of Mile High, Denver, Colorado or the Catskills in Upstate New York. In Aspen and Vail Colorado in January, the rich and the famous flock to the ski mountain resorts in festive social air to break out from winter boredom and cold.
In the Philippines, fairs and carnival rides abound around churches celebrating colorful town fiestas and their patron saint’s feast days as the fiesta of Sto. Niño in Lingayen. In Latin America, in Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, Candlemas devotion to the Blessed Virgin with rites and dances, and her images are worshipped. Carnivals in towns are common, especially in Oruro, La Paz, Cochabamba, Santa Cruz in Bolivia, Lima Arequipa, Chachapoyas, and Manu in Peru, and towns like Quito, Oriente and Costa Norte in Ecuador are in festive carnival moods. On January, many countries it seems, are carnival happy, where samples of music, craft, arts, cuisine and tourist activities amid gaiety abound.
Festivals, celebrations and galas are expressions of man’s desire and need to be happy. While for many, it may be difficult to be happy and to enjoy alone, folks need at times, the company of crowds and people to swing into moods of joy or gaiety. Bottom line is that even in the pursuit of happiness and joys, God has designed and created man, in more ways than one, that truly, people do need people.