January 6 – Epiphany
Greek Orthodox Christianity
A celebration of the visit by the Magi to the baby Jesus and his parents. In the Orthodox Church in particular, Epiphany, also known as Theophany, is one of the Great Feasts, marking the baptism of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist in the Jordan, and the beginning of his career as a preacher. Water plays a significant role in this festival as it is used in the Holy Baptism. See January 19 below.
January 19 – Rianovosti
The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates Epiphany on 19 January in line with the Juliancalendar. All water is said to become holy on this day, and people bathe to wash away their sins. Every year, tens of thousands of people across Russia bathe in icy cold water on Epiphany. Air temperatures can dip as low as minus sixty degrees Celsius.
End of January – Makar Sankranti
This festival marks the end of winter; in North India it is an auspicious day for ritual bathing. In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh it is called Pongal, and in the Punjab, Lohri. During this festival, people bathe themselves in the River Ganges in order to wash away their sins. The date depends on when the sun passes from the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn.
22ndMarch: UN World Water Day
An international day to celebrate freshwater was recommended at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED). The United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 22 March 1993 as the first World Water Day. Each year, World Water Day highlights a specific aspect of freshwater. For more information, please visit unwater.org
March/April (15-22 Nisan) – Pesach/Passover
Water is important in step two of the 15 steps of the Haggadah (a special text telling of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, which is read out during the Seder Passover meal), as it is when everybody has to wash their hands. (‘Festivals of the World’, p. 35)
April – Songkran
Songkran in Thailand is when statues of the Buddha are washed with scented water and water is ceremoniously poured onto the hands of monks, parents and the elderly. It is a time for showing sympathy for living creatures by releasing fish, turtles or cages birds. During this dry period, fish are often trapped in low-lying rivers, and rescuing them is regarded as a sign of compassion. (‘Festivals of the World’, p. 112)
Initially people started using the water used for washing the Buddha as a mark of respect using this “blessed” water to give good fortune to elders and family by gently pouring it on the shoulder. The holiday evolved to include dousing strangers with water to relieve the heat, since April is the hottest month in Thailand. This has further evolved into water fights and splashing water over people in vehicles.
Early June (the fifth day of the fifth month of the Chinese calendar)
Dragon Boat Racing
Confucianism and Daoism
In China, annual dragon boat races are held in memory of Ch’u Yuan, a scholar and minister to the King in 278 BC, who drowned himself in protest against the cruelty of the emperor. The dragon races represent the triumph of good over evil, for the evil emperor changed his ways and returned to justice after he heard of Ch’u Yuan’s death.
Mid summer – Maidhyoishema (Water festival)
Maidhyoishema is one of six festivals instituted by Zarathrustra to honour Hordad and the Amesha Spentas (Holy Immortals). The Holy Immortals created water, wholeness and health, and this is a five day festival to celebrate this. The most important is the third day, Jashan-e Tiragan, where people celebrate the pre-harvest rains. (‘Festivals of the World’, p. 145)
August 2011 – Villagarcia de Arousa Water Festival
The locals of the remote Spanish town Villagarcía de Arosa celebrate San Roque’s feast day with a huge water-fight. The tradition began when the town suffered a significant drought. Some beseeched the local patron saint to find a solution. They offered up the town’s last precious drops of water… and water came.After a religious homage to the patron saint during the morning, the serious partying begins with the Festa de Agua in the afternoon. Buckets, hydrants and hoses are brought out ready for the action and revelers’ clothes are reduced to sopping rags.
October 15 – UNICEF Global Hand Washing Day
The day is used to highlight the importance of using soap and water for hand washing – and how this practice can help reduce the spread of disease and mortality. This is particularly aimed at children.
September/October (first night of Ashwin) – Dusshera
On each of the nights of Dusshera, different manifestations of the great goddess Devi are worshipped. At the end of the festival the statue of Durga – the warrior incarnation of Devi – is taken to a river, pool or to the sea and is lowered into the water to be washed. The Great Goddess has many guises. She is “Ma” the gentle and approachable mother. As Jaganmata, or Mother of the universe, she assumes cosmic proportions, destroying evil and addressing herself to the creation and dissolution of the worlds. She is worshiped by thousands of names that often reflect local customs and legends. See the Smithsonian website. (asia.si.eu)
November 6 2011 (8th to 12th day of Du al-Hijjah) – Hajj Pilgrimage
The Hajj pilgrimage to the Muslim Holly City of Makkah involves a series of rituals including drinking from the Zamzam well, created by Allah as a holy source of water. Attending the Hajj pilgrimage is one of the five pillars of Islam and a sign of commitment to the faith of Islam. All Muslims must try and attend the pilgrimage at least once.
November – Water Festival (Bon Om Thook) Cambodia
During this festival, which takes place during the Buddhist month of Kadeuk, people come to offer thanks to the rivers for giving them abundant fish, water and other water resources. Bon Om Thook is a three-day festival in Phnom Penh. Most major roads are blocked off to allow people to walk around freely.
It includes boat races on the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh celebrating the time when the water in the river reverses course.
December 31, Brazil – Celebrating the Goddess Lemanjá
On New Year’s Eve in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, it is traditional to pay respects to Lemanjá the Queen of the Ocean by jumping seven waves, making wishes and floating flowers out to sea. Some send their gifts to Lemanjá in wooden toy boats. Paintings portraying Lemanjá rising out of the sea are sold in Rio shops, next to paintings of Jesus and other Catholic saints. Small offerings of flowers and floating candles are left in the sea on many nights at Copacabana. ( ‘Yemanja, Goddess of the sea’, by Mario de Aratanha.)
 ( Breuilly, Elizabeth. O’Brien, Joanne and Palmer, Martin. Festivals of the World. New York: Checkmark Books, 2002)
 (Palmer, Martin. Faiths and Festivals. London: Ward Lock Educational. 1984)