Top 10 Strangest Festivals in the World
It is a simple fact that most humans need to let their hair down, preferably in a noisy crowd. Failure to do so leads to all sorts of unpleasant outcomes, which is why we have parties, rock concerts, and pubs to meet this need. However, one of the oldest forms of stress management and social bonding is the festival.
Let’s take a look at some of the most quirky and downright weird in our list of the top 10 strangest festivals in the world:
1. El Colacho – Spain
The leaping over sleeping or startled infants during the Spanish festival of El Colacho in Castrillo de Murcia has a long and illustrious tradition. For half a millennium, the crop of babies born since the last festival are lovingly placed on decorated mattresses which are laid out around the town’s streets. An athletic citizen dressed as the Devil takes a running leap over the mattress and babies. This is a lengthwise jump making it a stressful event for both parents and onlookers. But no frantic phone calls to the authorities here as it is for the good of their little souls, cleansing them of all sin.
2. Noche de Rabaos – Mexico
Night of the Radish sounds like a B-grade 1950s thriller, but Mexico’s Noche de Rabaos is one of the most picturesque festivals around. On the 23rd of December, local radish growers/artists display elaborate radish carvings in the main square of Oaxaca City. Imaginations run wild, and this humble red root vegetable is sliced, scored and manipulated into figures of people and animals. Some artists carve whole casts of characters, re-creating dramatic scenes from Aztec and Spanish history as well as biblical events.
3. Kanamara Matsuri – Japan
The radish also features in the Japanese spring festival of Kanamara Matsuri but in an altogether more daring way. Here the local giant diakon radish is carved into sturdy phallic shapes as part of a Shinto ceremony celebrating fertility and sexual health. The Festival of the Steel Penis is a lot of laughs with crowds gathering in the street to pay their respect to the three giant penises carried through Kawasaki on portable altars. There is music, lots of laughter, plus a mind-boggling number of penises in the form of sweets, ice cream, cakes, fruits and vegetables. They even run to penis-shaped nose prosthetics.
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4. Up Helly Aa – Scotland
Testosterone levels soar at Up Helly Aa, a Scottish fire festival. The largest celebration is held in the Shetland Island town of Lerwick. Up to 800 of the local men design and make their own Viking costumes in great secrecy months before the event. Then, on the last Tuesday of January, they put aside their needle and thread, light up burning torches and rampage through the town. The lights are shut off so the winter night turns red with firelight. The troupes of men are led through the streets by their chieftain, the Guizer Jarl, to set light to a huge wooden longship in the center of town. Needless to say, the party continues long after the smoke has cleared.
5. Cooper’s Hill cheese-rolling festival – England
Cheese rolling sounds like a sedate thing to do, but the Cooper’s Hill cheese-rolling festival in Gloucester is fraught with peril and injuries. It is a spring festival which is so old its origins are unclear, but some say it derives from an ancient fertility rite for the new agricultural year. Nowadays, groups of young people from around the world gather for a pre-roll warm-up in the local pubs before charging down a nearly vertical hill after a round of double Gloucester. For safety reasons, the cheese was replaced by a foam replica in 2013, but battered winners take home the real thing.
6. UFO Festival Roswell – USA
Little green men from outer space are alive and well at the UFO Festival Roswell which the organizers claim is “a great place to crash.” Whether you believe in the great cover-up or not, and are able to survive the oven temperatures of New Mexico in July (Independence Day weekend), the festival is great fun for all the family. A mix of alternative science camp and Comicon, there are films, lectures, parades and, above all, costumes. There is even an alien pet contest where contestants create small furry alien life forms from their innocent animals.
7. The Battle of the Oranges – Italy
The Battle of the Oranges in the Northern Italy town of Ivrea is one of the world’s greatest food-throwing festivals. Up to 300,000 kilograms of the juicy fruit are hurled in a pitched battle between the forces of repression and the power of the people. The battle is a re-enactment of the town’s 12th-century bid for freedom from a tyrannical overlord. In true tyrant form, he tried to rape a young miller’s daughter on the eve of her wedding. But she fought back and beheaded him, triggering a mass revolt. Thousands take part, and if you want to avoid getting hit, wear a red cap of freedom which buys you immunity (sometimes).
8. Day of the Skulls – Bolivia
The award for the most macabre festival goes to the Day of the Skulls which is a Bolivian take on the Latin American Day of the Dead festival to remember those who have died. In the capital La Paz, people gather with skulls, often with the skin still attached, to have them blessed in church, ensuring good fortune. These are ‘found’ skulls, not the family skulls which Bolivians keep safely tucked away at home. After being placed in special glass cases and garlanded with sweet-smelling flowers, they are often given a cigarette. Apparently, local police find the festival a useful source of forensic evidence.
9. Holi Festival – India
Things get very wild during the Holi Festival in India where no one leaving their home is safe. Bombs of brightly colored powder and dye-tinted water are hurled at passers-by from any vehicle or rooftop. The festival is a spring one, devoted to love, forgiveness and fresh starts. The Indian diaspora means the festival is celebrated in many cities globally but with nothing like the rainbow intensity Holi has in India itself. No country parties like India where the streets fill with music and dancing technicolor crowds high on bhang and love.
10. Sonkajarvi – Finland
The Finns are responsible for the festival dedicated to the manly art of wife carrying. The festival has been running in Sonkajarvi since the early 1990s, but its origins go way back in Finnish history where wife stealing was a common courtship practice. Young men would raid neighboring villages abducting women who they would carry away on their backs. Nowadays every July men sprint around a 253-meter obstacle course in under a minute, fording water features and flying over walls. Fittingly, the winner receives his wife’s weight in beer.