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It may be getting cold, but things are just heating up on the circuit of festivals and events around the country. December brings the regular selection of festive season based events, like Christmas markets and tree lighting ceremonies as well as a multitude of snow-related activities. But for something a little different try these events on for size.

The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Las Vegas, December 2-11, 2005

Known as the Superbowl of Rodeos, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) brings cowboys and cowgirls from around the world to sin city for the ultimate showdown championship. The brave and brazen compete for $5 million in prize money, and the much-coveted golden belt buckles. Over 120 cowboys mount up for seven events - bull riding, team roping, bareback riding, saddle bronco riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and barrel racing.

The ten-day NFR has been wowing Las Vegas and hundreds of thousands of visitors since 1959. With limited audience seating, we recommend you book your tickets early (www.nfrexperience.com). If you can drag yourself away from the casinos, the event takes place at the Thomas and Mack Center, walking distance from the McCarran International Airport and five minutes drive from the Strip.

The Anchorage International Film Festival, Anchorage Alaska, December 2-11, 2005

Same dates, very different type of event. The ideal thing to do on a cold Alaskan pre-winter day would be to spend it indoors, so it is only fitting that The Anchorage International Film Festival, North America's northernmost independent film festival, takes place at this time. Screening up to 100 films in various venues around town. For a full details of the program and to purchase tickets, visit the festival website at www.anchoragefilmfestival.com.

Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters, Oahu, Hawaii, December 8-20, 2005

Rip off those winter coats and gloves and head to Hawaii for some December sun and the annual Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters. Ehukai Beach on the North Shore of Oahu is the location of the final event in the men's World Championship Tour and the biggest event in world surfing. For those in the know, Ehukai Beach is home to the world's most feared yet worshiped break - the Banzai Pipeline. This Mecca style event in the surfing world attracts the top 44 men and 18 women surfers, competing for the crown of World Champion. For more information, visit www.aspworldtour.com.

Midnight Run, New York City, December 31, 2005

For those looking for something more active than drinking champagne and watching the ball drop on New Year's Eve, there is one annual event that could have you huffing and puffing after midnight but not in the way you may think. The four-mile Midnight Run in Central Park is a New Year's Eve tradition for fitness fanatics. More than a sporting event, this social get together features live DJs, a masquerade parade (with prizes awarded for creativity) and fireworks as part of the celebration, and there's even a toast of non-alcoholic bubbly at the halfway mark. The festivities begin at the Central Park Bandshell near the 72nd St Transverse at 10pm with the Masquerade Parade and the race starts at midnight. Contact the event organizers, New York Road Runners Club (tel. 212/860-4455; www.nyrr.org/nyrrc/org/home.html) for more details.

Elvis Presley's 71st Birthday Celebration, Memphis TN, January 6-8, 2006

Each year, Elvis fans, devotees and some regular folk descend on Elvis's former home, Graceland to celebrate the day of his birth - January 8. The date in 2006 marks what would have been Elvis's 71st birthday so all the more reason to join the festivities. A somewhat condensed version of Elvis Week (which commemorates Elvis' death) held in August each year, the January event promises special dinners, receptions, music and celebrations. When it comes to Graceland, it seems that Elvis has never really left the building. Visit the official Elvis Presley website (www.elvis.com) for a program of events and activities..."Thank you very much."

International Snow Sculpting Competition, Breckenridge CO, January 27 - February 1, 2006

Not that you would need any further incentive to visit this world-class ski resort in the middle of the winter season, but in case you are looking for some off the slopes outdoor activities, the International Snow Sculpting Competition is worth a look. Sixteen teams from around the world gather to create works of art from 20-ton blocks of packed snow. Participants come from as far away as Russia, England, Italy, Argentina, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Switzerland and it seems that the aim is to beat the Russian team, that tends to dominate the competition every year. Sculptures are carved in the town center and visitors can watch the masterpieces come to life over a few days as sculptors work day and night. If you can stay in town longer, hang around for the Ullr Festival the following week, a festival that honors the Norse god of snow. Breckenridgers believe if they party hard during Ullr, they will be rewarded with a great ski season. For more information visit the official Breckenridge website (tel. 970/453-6018; www.gobreck.com/page.php)

Groundhog Day: Punxsutawney PA, February 2, 2006

As a foreigner living in the US, I have always wanted to go to this particular event. Not because they made a film about it, or because I really care whether or not we're going to have six more weeks of winter, but mainly because I have never seen a groundhog and I would like to see what all the fuss is about.Groundhog Day is a bizarre tradition dating back to 1841 (but with undoubtedly older origins), where if the groundhog (currently - Punxsutawney Phil) sees his own shadow then there will be six more weeks of winter. If the sky is cloudy and the day is shadowless, then spring is on its way.

Strange as it may seem, this event attracts tens of thousands of visitors to the otherwise unassuming town of Punxsutawney. The town also puts on a huge range of activities and celebrations in the days before and after Groundhog Day including guided tours, special celebration meals, craft fairs and you can even have a Groundhog Day marriage ceremony performed by the Mayor and witnessed by a member of the Groundhog Club. Make sure you arrive early for the 7:25am event (shuttle buses run from the town center to Gobbler's Knob from 3:00am). The Groundhog Club puts on music, fireworks and entertainment throughout the early morning. Visit www.groundhog.org for more information about Phil and his weather predicting activities.

Chinese New Year Parade and Miss Chinatown USA Pageant, San Francisco CA, February 11, 2006 - Lunar Year 4704, the Year of the Dog

Chinese New Year festivities are one of the highlights of the San Francisco event calendar, not only because of the large Chinese community, but also because of the wide range of activities that coincide with the beginning of the lunar year. The illuminated nighttime parade, which started in San Francisco in the 1860's as a means to educate the Chinese community about their culture, has grown to be the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia. The lavish annual Miss Chinatown USA Pageant at the Palace of Fine Arts welcomes contestants from all over the US, and the winner is flown to Hong Kong to challenge for the Miss Asia title. Entrants must be unmarried and need to have Chinese ancestry (a Chinese father) to enter. You can get more information and purchase bleacher seats to the parade at www.chineseparade.com.

Grumpy Old Men Festival, Wabasha MN, February 28, 2006

It may not be glamorous, but it promises to be cold and you'll more likely than not become rather grumpy if you attend this one day celebration of winter in the town of Wabasha, when the movie of the same name was set (but not filmed). Activities include ice fishing and an ice shack contest, Frisbee games, softball and golf tournaments, hoop shoots, bird watching, Bingo, a Cribbage tournament and a spaghetti dinner and dance. Dress warmly and get ready for some entertainment Minnesota style. See the Wabasha website (www.wabashamn.org/cgi-bin/viewallevents.cgi) for more details.

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