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Las Fiestas de Zapote, Zapote (San Jose), Costa Rica -- December 26 to 31, 2008

On the day after Christmas, the suburb of Zapote, which is part of San Jose and the location of its federal government buildings, holds its annual Las Fiestas de Zapote. For several evenings, Zapote plays host to a series of humane bullfights -- actually more like bull baiting -- where it is more likely that the bull fighters will be injured than the bulls as participants slap the bulls on their backsides. There are also heart-pounding carnival rides, fireworks, live music, huge make-shift bars and dance halls, cotton candy, and chinamos, small food stands promising delicious, homemade local favorites. Much larger than the average carnival, the Zapote festivals are one of San José's favorite yearly events. The activities are centered around the fairgrounds at Zapote and are also known as Festejos Populares.

Bor Sang Umbrella and Sankampaeng Handicraft Festival, Chiang Mai, Thailand -- January 16 to 18, 2009

Bor Sang is tiny rural village less than four miles from Chiang Mai, famous for its production of traditional Saa paper umbrellas made from mulberry tree bark and hand painted silk umbrellas. To celebrate its success and prosperity the village hosts a colorful three-day festival every January where the streets are illuminated by lanterns and thousands of umbrellas are hung from the rafters of wooden stilt houses and small shops. There are live musical performances, dances, parades, a beauty contest, a food festival and a local competition to design the year's most beautiful umbrella. Despite some modernization, the umbrellas are still produced by hand. The festival celebrates the Bar Song traditional lifestyle and its 100+ years of being a Thai handicraft center.

Robert Burns 250th Anniversary Weekend, Dumfries, Scotland -- January 24 to 25, 2009

Homecoming Scotland 2009 is a whole year of programs and events that will celebrate Scotland's ancestry, culture and heritage, highlighting its great contributions to the world (including golf, whisky, great minds, and innovations). Its kick-off event is Burns Light on Burns Night, celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns, Scotland's greatest son in his hometown of Dumfries, in southern Scotland. Join locals for a warm and vibrant midwinter festival with lantern processions, inspired by the works of Robert Burns will wind through the historic heart of Dumfries, where the poet spent much of his life. The lanterns will make their way past Burns' house and onto his final resting place at St. Michael's Church. The procession ends at the River Nith with live music, a traditional ceilidh, and a spectacular fire show, featuring huge sculptures, fireworks, and a wicker sculpture of Tam O'Shanter, a beloved character from Burns' most famous poem. All events are free. For more information, visit www.burnslight.co.uk.

Auckland Seafood Festival and Auckland Anniversary Day Regatta, New Zealand -- January 24 to 26, 2009

Auckland's Waitemata Harbour comes alive in one of the world's biggest one-day regattas with a range of different craft including tiny optimists, center-boarders, classic vesselos, keelboats, and multi-hulls. The scene will be set on Sunday January 25 with a rare opportunity to see an impressive fleet of heritage vessels up close as they berth in the Viaduct Harbour from late afternoon and are illuminated by night. Then, on Monday January 26, the main festivities begin with the Parade of Sail, recapturing the glory and spectacle of bygone years with a parade of classic yachts and launches, tugboats and Tall Ships, as they depart from the Viaduct Harbour and make their way up to the race start line off Orakei Wharf. There is a Tugboat race up the channel, round Narrow Neck Buoy, and finishing at Torpedo Bay (best vantage points are North Head or East Coast Bays beaches), a Tall Ship race and staggered starts for other classic yachts, and boat races around the harbour with the best spectator vantage points being Bastion Point, North Head, East Coast Bays, Tamaki Drive, Orakei, and Princes Wharves. There is even a race for radio-controlled yachts. For more information, visit www.regatta.org.nz.

On the same weekend, enjoy The Auckland Seafood Festival which features the highest quality locally caught seafood and live entertainment. The festival celebrates the huge array of fresh and delicious seafood available in the Hauraki Gulf and in surrounding New Zealand waters. This year's festival will be at a new location -- Halsley Street Wharf Extension -- and will be at the reduced price of NZ$10 (approximately US$5.40). It will run over the three days of the Auckland Anniversary long weekend with plenty of entertainment, education, and culture to compliment the array of delicious seafood on offer. There are also cooking demonstrations, kids' activities and live music. Proceeds from the 2009 Auckland Seafood Festival will go towards anti-drug education programs. For more information, visit www.aucklandseafoodfestival.co.nz.

Carnival, Venice, Italy -- February 13 to 24, 2009

The theme of this year's Carnevale di Venezia is "Sensation: Six Senses of the Six Sectors" -- referring to the six central areas of the city. This is a carnival like no other, celebrated by locals and visitors alike in grand fashion with parties, grand balls, decorations, and, of course, the exotic and colorful 18th-century costumes with their ornate masks. In addition, the city also puts on fireworks displays, Baroque music concerts, operas, gondolas processions, exhibitions, and gala dinners. Some events are free while others are prohibitively expensive, with dinner and theatre shows going for €450 or more. St. Valentine's Day is part of the festival with numerous dinners and shows in honor of romance with many events requiring that you wear costumes to attend. (If you don't bring your own, event organizers can arrange to rent you a costume.) You don't need to spend a lot though to experience Carnevale in all its splendor as you can simply walk the alleyways and canals of the city and watch the costumed people parade by. For more information and to purchase specific event tickets, visit www.carnivalofvenice.com.

The Chutzpah Festival, Vancouver, Canada -- February 19 to March 1, 2009

You don't necessarily associate Vancouver with a large Jewish community, but its annual Chutzpah Festival is an outstanding festival highlighting the best and brightest of Jewish talent both local and imported. Now celebrating its ninth year, the festival has an outstanding cast of local, national and international performers, whose works fuse cultures, generations and mediums, mixing it up to create stunning performances that mirror the multicultural world. Chutzpah acts as a meeting ground of culture and the performing arts that engages and inspires the community as well as the artists in the genres of cutting edge music, theatre, dance and comedy. Some of 2009's acts include The JAP Show: The Princesses of Comedy; a world premiere by New York-based dance company Aszure & Artists; The Timekeepers, an Israeli theatrical production; Klezmer Buenos Aires: Lerner Moguilevsky Duo from Argentina; Balkan Beat Box; and Lipshtick!: A Lipshitz Brothers Improv Show. Tickets for all shows are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $12 for children. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.chutzpahfestival.com.