Year of festivals

From Britain to France to Belize, important anniversaries are being celebrated this year

This year, Britain takes the cake celebrating the births of several famous writers and the death of one illustrious playwright; in the American West, an icon of contemporary bohemia approaches middle age; victory and defeat are commemorated on French battlefields; and the struggle for independence is cause for celebration in Central America.

Children the world over know Charlie and his chocolate factory and the wild Mr Toad, but to learn about their creators, families will want to head to Wales and northern England. In the Lake District of Cumbria, Beatrix Potter's 150th birthday will see a new book festival sponsored by the National Trust (March 4 to 6), and exclusive tours of her Hill Top home, exhibitions and a new musical, to be presented by the World of Beatrix Potter Attraction (June 27 to Sept 4).

The centennial of writer Roald Dahl's birth will turn his hometown, Cardiff, in Wales, into a City of the Unexpected, a number of site-specific performances produced by the National Theatre Wales and the Wales Millennium Centre (Sept 16 to 17). It is to serve as the centrepiece of a month-long series of readings, exhibitions and other events.

The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death will have both Stratford-upon-Avon and London teeming with devotees all year long. Among the many events taking place will be performances and talks by the Royal Shakespeare Company, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and a festival of scholars at King's College (Feb 11 to 14).

On April 23 and 24, the Globe Theatre turns to cinema to celebrate the Bard, projecting 37 original 10- minute films - one for each play - onto just as many screens set up along the banks of the Thames, between the Westminster and Tower bridges.

On Feb 21, France will honour those lost at one of the bloodiest battles of World War I by unveiling a newly renovated Memorial de Verdun and a new museum, which is to host several exhibitions of never-before-seen artefacts and photographs, along with concerts, talks and other programmes. President Francois Hollande is to help kick off commemorations at a special ceremony there on May 29.

Other centennial events in France this year will honour battles of the Great War in Somme, Delville Wood, Pozieres and Flers- Courcelette. Tour companies are offering excursions to these regions led by military historians, like that of the Great Rail Journey, which is offering a five-day tour of the Somme battlefields on what remains of the Western Front's military railway.

The United States National Park Service turns 100 on Aug 25 and while each of its more than 400 sites will be celebrating in its own way, a nationwide initiative, the American Solar Challenge, will span nine parks, seven states and 2,900km in eight days, as a parade of solar-powered cars race from Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Brecksville, Ohio, to Wind Cave National Park in Hot Springs, South Dakota. Other centennial programmes and park-specific events can be found at findyourpark.com.

How can it be that the original gathering of free spirits and spontaneous performance, the desert home of ludicrous experimentation and mad fun, Burning Man (Aug 28 to Sept 5), is turning 30?

Perhaps it has become a bit more formulaic and organised than in its youth, but some middle-age practicality is necessary for an event that has grown from 35 people at its inception on Baker Beach in San Francisco to a town of its own in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, drawing 65,000 temporary residents each summer.

But not to worry, the festival's 10 major principles, particularly that of "radical self-expression", are still alive and kicking.

Just 35 years ago, Belize gained full independence from Britain and since then, tourism has soared. But do not expect to find a Starbucks on what was once known as Mother Nature's best-kept secret. The Belize government and tourism board have managed to keep chain establishments away, while drawing independent luxury resorts (see Leonardo DiCaprio's eco-resort on Blackadore Caye) and restaurants.

Independence celebrations include parades and street festivals throughout September, notably the Jouvert (Sept 17) in Belize City, an early-morning street party that has participants sporting paint, mud and chocolate. Costumed dancers and musicians follow during what is to be an amped-up version of its annual carnival. And on Sept 21, the festivities culminate in a nationwide party of barbecues, concerts and ceremonies.

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 17, 2016, with the headline 'Year of festivals'. Print Edition | Subscribe