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Finding enlightenment in cultural celebrations

  • COURTESY FOUR SEASONS HOTELS AND RESORTS

    Four Seasons Resort at Sayan in Bali offers yoga under the glow of a full moon.

Historic festivals and cultural celebrations provide expansive experiences for travelers. Here are five to consider:

1. Nadaam Festival, Mongolia

A sophisticated and elegant expression of nomadic culture, the Nadaam festival is popular among Mongols and believed to have existed for centuries. The core of the festival is comprised of “Danshig games” — wrestling, horse racing and archery — once reserved only for men. Today, women and girls participate in some aspects. With spiritual roots — both shamanist and Buddhist — the festival celebrates cultural identity with art, singing, dancing and ceremonies throughout the region in midsummer.

Contact: mircorp.com

2. Obon, Japan

Obon, a “matsuri” or Japanese festival, is held each summer to honor the ancestors’ spirits and to welcome them back for a brief visit with the living. A 500-year-old tradition in Japan, the festival begins as small lanterns are lit to guide the spirits home. There are offerings of food to nourish the spirits, either at household altars or at food stalls lining the streets. A most memorable sight is “bon odori,” the traditional dances. Thousands wear “yukata,” a lighter summer kimono, dancing to the beat of the taiko drums. Many U.S. communities celebrate Obon. In Santa Maria Valley, Calif., all are welcome for a festival that includes taiko drumming, traditional dancing and martial arts demonstrations.

Contact: us.jnto.go.jp/top/index.php; santamariavalley.com

3. Longs Peak Scottish Irish Highland Festival, Estes Park, Colo.

Jousting knights, hoisting athletes and calling bagpipes have been entertaining families for more than three decades in this scenic mountain setting. One of the nation’s largest celebrations of the heritage, sounds, tastes and the arts of Scottish and Irish cultures gets underway the weekend after Labor Day. You’ll be serenaded by bands hailing from Great Britain, Scotland, Ireland, Canada and the United States. Don’t miss the free parade down Main Street.

Contact: scotfest.com; visitestespark.com

4. Heiva, Tahiti

The 137-year-old Celebration of Life, an annual, monthlong festival of Polynesian song and dance, gets underway each July. Singers and dance troupes from 118 Tahitian islands gather for an annual competition highlighting ancestral traditions and legends. Live music accompanies the contenders, using traditional instruments such as the nasal flute or “vivo,” marine shells or “pu,” and more recently, the ukulele. With meaningful choreography and costumes, it’s considered the centerpiece of the festival. Visitors can also take in traditional sports and games based on ancient athletic activities. Expect a stone-lifting competition, a javelin-throwing event, “va’a” (outrigger canoe) races, a copra competition and a fruit-carrying contest.

Contact: heiva.org

5. Nyepi, Bali

While many celebrate a New Year with fireworks and frivolity, the Balinese choose to cleanse the spirit, meditate and bask in silence on Nyepi, or Silent Day. On Nyepi Eve, observe local villagers as they play music, dance and parade colorful, handcrafted “monster dolls” through the streets, while encouraging evil spirits to join the party, hoping they will then sleep through Nyepi. During the 24 hours of silence that follows, Bali’s airport, seaports, roads and all businesses are closed, steeping the island in a magical, pristine quiet. Lighting and the use of electricity are kept to a minimum. Visitors and resort guests are encouraged to join islanders in a day of relaxation and reflection. It’s an ideal time for journaling, napping, quiet conversation, candlelit dinners and stargazing. Ease into the day with morning yoga at the Four Season’s Jimbaran Bay’s peaceful, oceanfront pavilion. At the Four Seasons Resort at Sayan guests are invited to join in a meditation under the stars aside the rooftop lotus pond. Nyepi falls according to the lunar-based Balinese calendar and thus changes each year. The next Silent Day is March 25, 2020.

Contact: fourseasons.com/jimbaranbay; fourseasons.com/sayan

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