Festivals that might make you scratch your head
The fact that festivals and holidays are celebrated all over the world is nothing new. In many countries, however, there are unusual and sometimes crazy celebrations.
Customs so bizarre that one can only marvel in disbelief. "You'll never believe this!"
A report of weird traditions around the world.
In Castrillo de Murcia in the province of Burgos, men dressed in devil costumes and holding whips and castanets jump over babies and toddlers to free them from original sin. "El Salto del Colacho," the Devil's Leap, has been celebrated since 1621 and is the highlight of the week-long Corpus Christi festivities.
Kok Boru, a traditional horse game, is a synthesis of traditional practices, performances and the game itself. It is a traditional game played by two teams on horseback, where players try to manoeuvre with a goat’s carcass (replaced with a mould in modern-day games), or ‘ulak’, and score by putting it into the opponents’ goal. The community of bearers includes players united in higher league, semi-professional and amateur teams, as well as the general public.
The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is a four-day entertainment event held at Cooper's Hill near Brockworth, Gloucestershire, England. It involves participants racing after a 3 to 4 kg wheel of cheese as it rolls down a hill about 180 meters to catch it. The tradition is said to date back to Roman times. It is considered certain that it has been carried out for 200 years. According to the organizers, there is room on the site for a maximum of 5,000 participants. After about 15,000 visitors came in 2009, the event was canceled for 2010 due to security concerns. In 2011, the event could be held again.
This annual festival occurs in July in the village of Boryeong, 200 kilometers south of Seoul. The festival is not historic by any means — the first one took place in 1998 — and it was originally created as a marketing event for Boryeong mud cosmetics. The mud from the Boryeong mud flats is considered rich in natural minerals and is used to make beauty products. The two-week promotional event is now popular with locals and tourists alike. Notable festivities include a mud pool, mud slides, mud prison and mud skiing.
The Air Guitar World Championship has been held annually in Oulu, Finland, since 1996 as part of the Oulu Music Video Festival. What started as a joke has turned into a serious draw for the event. Participants must play air guitar on stage in two rounds with each lasting at least one minute (one song is chosen by the participant and one by the organizer), they must play air guitar only (no drums, piano, etc.) and are scored out of 6.0. The ideology behind the event is a simple one: ‘Wars would end and all the bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar.’
During the first Sunday of April, the streets of Kawasaki, Japan, are filled with penis praising activities for bringing honor to the Shinto spirits venerated at the Kanayama Shrine. The penis festival was formalized only in 1969 but had its roots in Japanese folklore and ancient beliefs. During the first Sunday of April, the streets of Kawasaki, Japan, are filled with penis praising activities for bringing honor to the Shinto spirits venerated at the Kanayama Shrine. The penis festival was formalized only in 1969 but had its roots in Japanese folklore and ancient beliefs.
Before you start to consider how a monkey would taste, this is a buffet for monkeys. The local monkey population of around 2,000-3,000 in the Lopburi Province north of Bangkok is gifted with a feast of 4,000 kilograms of fruits, vegetables, cakes, and candies every November. After the monkeys are given their treat, youths dressed up as monkeys perform dances. The festival first occurred in 1989, run by a local businessman who thought of this unique way to drive up tourism in Lopburi. Luckily for him and the monkeys, it worked.
The Tomatina is a Spanish festival that takes place every year as part of the town celebration (fiestas patronales) of Buñol (Valencia Region) on the Wednesday of the last week of August. In the festival, participants throw overripe tomatoes at each other. At the festival, to which thousands from all over the world flock to Buñol, overripe tomatoes are thrown through the streets in a harmless battle. Tons of the already overripe tomatoes are dumped by trucks into the streets of Buñol, so that after the battle, veritable rivers of tomato juice run through the streets. The visitors are mostly not Spanish, but come as tourists from all continents.
Wife carrying, or Eukonkanto in Finnish, originated as a sport in Sonkajärvi, Finland, in 1992. The exact origins of the tradition are unknown, but each story has something to do with theft. Today, wife carrying is practiced around the world. Participants are allowed to carry their wives in a variety of ways — including piggyback, fireman’s carry or Estonian-style, where the wife hangs upside-down with her legs around her husband’s shoulders. They carry her across a 253.5-meter track riddled with obstacles. The prize is awarded based on the wife’s weight in beer.
Located up in the frigid province of Yukon, Canada, the International Hair Freezing Contest is a fun winter celebration that occurs every February at the Takhini Hot Pools. Participants in the contest dunk their heads in the hot water of the pools and then create frosty hairdos by shaping their locks as they freeze in the cold air above. Temperatures in the area can reach below -30° Celsius, or -22° Fahrenheit, at the time of the contest. Winners receive a small cash prize.
At the end of every summer, an artistic community comes together to create and dismantle a city in the Nevada desert. Founded in 1986 in San Francisco, California, Burning Man is a mindset as well as a festival. Some of the group’s values include ‘radical’ inclusion, self-reliance, self-expression, community cooperation, decommodification and more. The community celebrates by combining all of their individual talents to create artistic sculptures, buildings, performances, art cars, and more that all participants can enjoy. The event culminates in the burning of a large wooden man, which has reached a height of 105 feet in recent years. After the event, the festival-goers aim to leave no trace of their activities by restoring the environment to exactly as it was when they arrived.
Bog snorkeling originated as a sport in Llanwrtyd Wells in 1976, and the annual August championship has been running since 1985 at Waen Rhydd bog. Armed with a snorkel and flippers, participants must complete two consecutive lengths in a 60-yard trench of water cut through a peat bog, relying only on their flippers to push them through. Hundreds travel to Wales from around the world to take part in this unusual sporting event.
During this traditional Chinese festival, participants historically raced up a tower of buns to grab the highest bun, which would bring them the best fortune. The annual festival dates back to the 18th century and marks the eighth day of the fourth month in the Chinese calendar, which coincides with the celebration of Buddha’s birthday. The event’s official bun supplier, Kwok Kam Kee, makes more than 60,000 buns for the bun festival. The centerpieces of the event are three 60-foot bamboo towers covered in buns, which, at today’s festivals, are scaled by three trained men.
Each year on the evening of 31st August, residents of Nejapa gather around to throw fireballs in commemoration of the 1658 El Playon volcanic eruption. History has it that the natural disaster forced the villagers of the old town to flee and settle in their current location. Today, residents split themselves into two teams to paint their faces like skulls and begin the festival by hurling palm-sized fireballs of kerosene at the opposing team. Though dangerous, Las Bolas de Fuego has been running for more than 100 years now and falls among the top unusual festivals worldwide.
The Water Gun Festival in the Sinchon district of Seoul, South Korea will take your summer spirits to a whole new level. The festival that originated with the purpose to beat the heat has now transformed into one of the most popular summer festivals in the city! Participants get to engage in a series of water battle activities along with witnessing an array of special events including power-packed music performances, street dancing and lots more making it the ultimate place to visit with your family and friends to party the hot summer away.
Make your way to the UNESCO-listed Italian town of Ivera to witness a citrus battlefield where participants shoot 600,000 kgs of oranges at one another celebrating Shrove Tuesday - the city’s popular historic carnival. The battle aims at recreating the 12th-century combat between the locals and the Royal Napoleonic troops. The teams of aranceri (orange handlers) on foot hurl oranges (representing old weapons and stones) against aranceri riding in carts (representing the tyrant's ranks). This symbolic festival held in Italy marks one of the biggest food fights in the country, making its way to the top among the list of unusual festivals held around the world.
Making a baby cry is probably the worst thing you can do, however, Japan is here to prove you wrong. Naki Sumo is a 400-year old tradition where you get to witness an entire event based on grown men’s ability to make babies cry! The festival takes place at Sensoji Temple every year in April, where babies are paired up with a sumo wrestler who will then try to make the little ones cry. The rules are simple; whoever makes one of the babies cry first, wins. Traditionally it is believed that a crying baby has the power to ward off evil spirits and a strong, loud cry implies the child will grow strong and healthy. Though the viewers seem to enjoy this event, the unusual festival clearly takes a harsh toll on infants.
The list of the most unusual festivals in the world will not be complete without mentioning the World Toe Wrestling Championship. Held every year in Ashbourne, UK - the competition welcomes the best toe wrestles from all over the world to battle against one another for the title! The sport involves two opponents who lock feet in an attempt to pin each other’s foot down in the least time possible, similar to arm wrestling. There are three rounds played on a best of 2 out of 3 bases. Rounds kickstart with the right foot, then left and followed by right again if necessary.
The Argungu Festival is a colorful annual fishing festival held every year in the Nigerian village of Argungu. This festival features extreme fishing techniques in which participants catch fishes as big as an average human with their bare hands or other primitive tools. Hence, it’s no surprise that casualties occur quite often. That’s why the festival was banned for a few years. However, in March 2020, one of the most popular fishing festivals in Africa will be back after a long break.
This bull-taming festival held in Tamil Nadu is part of the Pongal celebrations. The main event consists of a specially-bred Bos Indicus bull getting released into a crowd of brave participants that hump on the bull’s back and try to hang on as the bull rages in the crowd. Unsurprisingly, casualties are an inevitable part of this festival.Jalilkatu was first practiced in the 3rd century BC as a test of bravery among the ancient Ayars. The festival was briefly banned in 2017 but violent protests by the local population gave the local authorities no choice but to revoke the ban.
The Vegetarian Festival in Phuket might be meat-free but that doesn’t mean it’s gore-free. Participants cut out eating meat from their diet during the whole month and perform an array of quirky religious rituals. The most bizarre ones include walking on hot coal and piercing with giant needles in order to invoke the gods. It’s believed that during these rituals, the participants are the medium of God and will be rewarded with good health and peace of mind.
Apparently, the people of Karnataka decided to save the weirdest and most bizarre festivals for the end of the year. Even though it doesn’t have an official name, this strange ritual involves throwing toddlers from a balcony 30-50 meters above the ground and catched on a blanket. People practicing this ritual believe that this will give the infant a long and prosperous life. The festival dates back to 700 years ago and both, Hindus and Muslims partake in it.
The festival of Onbashira, held every six years, is considered to be one of the most dangerous festivals in the world. It consists of four groups of men log-riding as they clamber on massive tree trunks while rolling down the hill. To make things even weirder, whoever survives this crazy rides and reaches the target first, beats his chest while screaming ‘kampai’. The festival takes place every six years because the four Onbashira trees grown specifically for this festival, need around six years to fully grow.
Krampus is the hairy, fanged goat-demon that terrorizes children who misbehave. On Krampusnacht, the very creepy Krampus takes to the streets, visiting homes and businesses dispensing coal to the badly behaved. Intriguing and terrifying at the same time – Krampusnacht is the stuff nightmares are made of! Small alpine towns in the Austrian Alps have the men and teenage boys of the village dress up as the Krampus – a half-goat/half-demon who is meant to whip children into being nice at Christmas.
Noche de Los Rabanos (Night of the Radishes) began during the 19th century, when market stall holders aimed to attract Christmas churchgoers to sample their wares in the village square with intricately carved radishes to decorate the Christmas table. December 23 was officially proclaimed the Night of the Radishes in 1897. Tourists and locals alike flock to admire carvings themed on everything from traditional nativity scenes to historic local culture. The popularity of the contest has grown to the point where a dedicated radish plantation has been established outside the city to provide contestants with material for their artistic sculptures.
Being hit by a flying cow pie is said to bring the utmost good luck in an Indian village in the Pradesh region. Each April, villagers of Kairuppala hurl cow dung at each other at the end of their Ugadi festival. The bizarre street fight is said to bring health, prosperity, and rain to anyone fortunate enough to be hit by the smelly missiles. Thousands gather to watch the reenactment of a mythical marriage dispute between the goddess Bhadrakali and Lord Veerabhadra Swarmy before eventually celebrating the nuptials. If you happen to be injured by a piece of flying cow dung, never fear: It is said to contain special healing qualities.
The Golden Shears International Shearing and Woolhandling Championships is the world's most prestigious sheep shearing event. It was founded in Masterton, New Zealand, and has been held in the town's War Memorial Stadium each March since 1961. It initially comprised competition in three shearing classes, including the Open championship, which is the most revered of all single shearing titles worldwide. In the final, sometimes referred to as shearing's equivalent of the Wimbledon Open in tennis, six shearers each shear 20 second-shear sheep, for which the fastest time was 15min 27.4sec, shorn in 2003.
The origins of the Calcio storico date back to the 15th century. The final takes place every year on St. John's Day (June 24), as St. John the Baptist is the patron saint of the city of Florence. The game takes place in Piazza Santa Croce in front of the Franciscan church Basilica di Santa Croce in the center of Florence, for this purpose the square is covered with sand. Today's game is very different from the historical model, which has the same number of players, the same playground, but today is much harder. This "own world" today allows behavior on the field that outside would be considered assault.