What is the sound of joy this season?

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By George Stone, TRAVEL Executive Editor

How do you measure joy? In Japan there’s a way: Each December, choirs across the country perform “Ode to Joy” in hundreds of concerts, including one of the world’s most monumental singing spectacles: a 10,000-person chorus harmonizing a message of peace, hope, and joy (above, in 2008).

Our writer Rachel Ng tells the fascinating story of how the choral of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony became a holiday tradition. “While world wars, fascism, and communism couldn’t silence the Ninth, the current pandemic has posed an obstacle to group singing,” she reports. “For some Japanese, singing ‘Ode to Joy’ is a way for them to connect more broadly with humanity.”

Toshiaki Kamei, former mayor of Naruto, directs the national association of societies dedicated to performing the piece: “We believe singing Daiku [the choral of Beethoven’s Ninth] together with people from various cultural backgrounds helps us learn to accept diversity and promote world peace.”

What makes the movement so captivating? “This symphony has that capacity to heal and repair broken people and a broken world at times. The Ninth elevates us to recognize the best parts of ourselves,” says author and filmmaker Kerry Candaele, whose movie, Following the Ninth, documents the global impact of Beethoven’s final symphony.

In an echo of our ode to yorokobi (joy), reader Joy Lopez sent us a message of peace that resonates. “We are most caught up in that golden flush of happiness and pleasure and enchantment when repeating rituals of goodness,” she reports from her garden, noting that caring for the soil nourishes the soul, the planet, and our connection to one another. “When people join together to do good,” she says, they are creating “that invisible glow of joy.”

Embracing the season with snow and all (below in Washington, D.C., in 2018), finding time for others, and giving into laughter are wonderful ways to wrap up the year. How do you define joy—and where do you find it? Let me know and I will share your responses.

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Today in a minute

Ecotourism without tourists: How do conservationists in Mexico persuade locals to preserve monarch butterfly grounds or save diverse forest ecosystems that range from tropical to deciduous to cloud to evergreen? The difficulty has multiplied this year, as money from tourism to these places has dried up, Annelise Jolley writes for Nat Geo. “If we don’t have people coming, we don’t have income,” says Ana Moreno, who has worked as a guide at the Cerro Pelón Butterfly Sanctuary in the forested Sierra Madre range above her village.

Will stronger cycling and pedestrian rules stick? Advocates want to retain measures, established during the pandemic, that have limited vehicle traffic in some cities, making them friendlier—and less stressful—to walkers, runners, and bikers. They hope to keep blocks of outdoor dining, giving cities a European feel. Transportation officials say the switchover—and the positive reaction—came only because of a crisis. Can cities shave off a few areas from dominance by cars? “The truth is we must move quickly,” writes Joe Lindsey for Outside.

Postcards from Timbuktu: An out-of-work tour guide and an American hotelier in Mali teamed up to provide travel-starved tourists a taste from faraway. For $10, you can dictate a message and have it postmarked from the U.N. World Heritage city. Proceeds are helping students with school supplies, the Washington Post reports.

Your Instagram of the day

Jack London country: A four-legged customer waits outside as classic piano melodies fill the Downtown Hotel’s Sourdough Saloon in the Yukon’s Dawson City. The Canadian saloon is the site where bar patrons can partake in the sourtoe cocktail, a legendary drink with a storied past that goes back to the 1920s. The saloon describes the drink as “1 ounce (minimum) of alcohol, 1 dehydrated toe, and garnish with courage.” Like this photo? So did more than 100,000 people on our Travel Instagram page.

See it: The Yukon is Canada’s isolated oasis

The big takeaway

No meltdown: Almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for California’s cheesemakers this year. Wildfires. Lockdowns. An end to most in-person visits along the 70-dairy California Cheese Trail. Yet, dairies and cheesemakers have adapted with pre-recorded virtual tours, weekly Instagram “Cheese Chats,” and a holiday digital Cheesefest, writes Ella Buchan. “They have really pulled out all the stops and used their creativity in a bunch of ways,” says Vivian Straus, who helped develop the Cheese Trail a decade ago. (Pictured above, the hand-crafted Original Blue from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese.)

Overheard at Nat Geo

Getting the circus back home: Decades of daring acrobatics, spectacular motorcycle stunts, and mind-blowing magic tricks couldn’t prepare Central America’s oldest-running circus for its most challenging feat yet: how to get home during a pandemic. In the latest episode of our podcast, Overheard, photographer and National Geographic Explorer Tomás Ayuso spoke of encountering the Segovia Brothers Circus in Honduras—and chronicling the performers’ rollercoaster journey back to their native Guatemala. Bring on the roadside trampoline! The Globe of Death! And a surprising circus fan, who ultimately comes to their rescue. (Pictured above, Lilian Segovia strikes a pose with the hula hoops she uses in her circus act.)

In a few words

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The last glimpse

The surreal world of cruising: Temperature checks at meals. Pre-boarding virus tests. Masks on the dance floor. Believe it or not, a few cruise ships in Europe and Asia are still going in the middle of a pandemic, Rachel Ng writes. (Pictured above, masked guests on the MSC Grandiosa wait in a socially distanced line to putt on a mini-golf green in October.) Note: Cruise ships aren’t docking or taking off from U.S. ports, and the CDC has warned people to avoid cruises because of very high COVID-19 risks. (Below, masked passengers on the MSC Grandiosa applauded a presentation by the captain and other crew members.)

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Kimberly Pecoraro and Gretchen Ortega helped produce this. Have an idea or a link? We’d love to hear from you at david.beard@natgeo.com . And thanks for reading!

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