As a fantasy and science fiction writer I have to create entire worlds from scratch. The level of detail needed for that can be overwhelming. One of the things I spent time researching when writing my novel was unusual festivals. I needed to create some rituals around a funeral and a couple of festival events. What I wanted was the detail, the random intricacies of odd celebrations – what are the traditions, what ‘things’ do they have and do in these festivals. This research has done so much more – my head is exploding with ideas, so I had to share this bonkers list.
This has made me question why we obsessively celebrate certain things, How these festivals come into play – what happened to cause the worship of these things, and more importantly what considerations do I need to make about the history and creation of festivals in my own world and stories.
Hope you find these as useful as I did. Here are the most bizarre festivals I found and some of them really, truly are, bonkers!
1. Monkey Buffet – Lopburi, Thailand
In Thailand they thank hundreds of monkeys for the tourism they bring by cooking 200 tonnes of food and letting them go nuts!
This festival symbolises cleansing and purification. Those who attend wear Japanese fundoshi, or loincloths. The festival involves throwing mud and water at each other. It is traditionally a spiritual event but like many festivals people join in for fun.
3. Burning Man Festival – Black Rock Nevada
I’ll let this festival speak for itself – its website says ‘Once a year, tens of thousands of people gather in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary metropolis dedicated to community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. In this crucible of creativity, all are welcome.’ This is the kind of festival I would love to go to – its a hybrid fusion of culture, colours, crazy costumes, breath taking artwork and acceptance. In essence it is full of the weird and wonderful.
4. Testicle Festival – Rock Creek Lodge Montana
Sort of does what it says on the tin. 6,500 people attend this festival to eat a sh*t load of balls! It’s an adults only festival, due to the encouragement of nudity! There’s oil wrestling, wet t shirt competitions and even ‘No Panty Wednesday’ where festival goers are offered a free drink in exchange for their underwear.
There was a hoohaa over the Olympics in Atlanta. Someone said something derogatory about the hosts – that it ‘would be hosted by a ‘bunch of rednecks”. In spite, a bunch of rednecks created the Redneck Games. Events include: ‘toilet seat throwing’, ‘bobbing for pig’s trotters’, the ‘mud pit belly flop’ and the mysterious ‘armpit serenade’. A Canadian version of the games began in 2006.
I hate toes. This one is definitely not for me! In Derbyshire, there is an annual Toe Wrestling festival. It involves two people sitting opposite each other and putting their feet on a ‘toedium’. Their toes interlock and then they wrestle with both feet until one persons foot is forced to touch the side of the frame. I hope they wash their feet before they wrestle… *pongy*
7. World Bog Snorkelling Championships Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales
People wear fancy dress (not compulsory) and then compete to be the fastest to snorkel through 60ft of bog.
8. Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race Brawby, North Yorkshire
So, REAL yorkshire puds are made. Yes, REAL yorkshire puds. They are then coated with yacht varnish to make them waterproof for long enough for the race across ‘Bob Pond’s’ in the village of Brawby.
9. World Gurning Championships Egremont, Cumbria
Pull the strangest, oddest face possible. Unfortunately boxers and the elderly have an unfair advantage if they have lost teeth! As if facial acrobatics aren’t enough as part of the Crab Fair there’s also a Pipe Smoking Contest and Cumberland Wrestling.
10. Up Helly Aa – Viking and Fire Festival St Ninians Island, Shetlands, Scotland
This festival is hot, hot, hot. Up Helly Aa is Europe’s biggest fire festival which celebrates the end of the Yule season. Local men dress up as vikings, light torches and genrally stampede through the town of Lerwick.
11. The Thaipuism Festival, Southern India
If you don’t like blood, its probably not the festival for you. This is a Hindu festival which is usually celebrated in southern India. It involves some of the most intense body piercings known to man. According to locals, the more pain you can cope with the more you will be blessed. Some try pulling tractors or other heavy objects with the hooks in their skin. :O
To celebrate their New Year, the world’s largest water gun fight takes place in Thailand. The festival is massive and encompasses their whole country not just one or two villages. It’s not just water guns either. They use buckets, elephants and any thing else they can fill and use to throw water on each other.
There are a lot of animal oriented festivals. Some that make me a little uncomfortable. This is one of them. Originally it was meant to promote Australia’s tuna industry. But this festival is now infamous for it’s highlight event…the tuna toss. You literally toss tuna’s.
14. Boryeong Mud Festival Boryeong, South Korea
This takes place every summer the festival now attracts millions of visitors from all over the world. It was meant to be an event to help market local producers of cosmetics who use the mineral rich mud in their products, but with a lot of festivals it has grown and changed with time.
The moose is the state’s official animal. So in Talkeetna an annual festival is held to celebrate the moose. People climb into hot air balloons and have to drop loads of moose poop onto targets!
Bredo Morstol’s body was brought to the United States by his grandson in the late 80′s. His body was cryogenically frozen just after he died in order to transport him. It was kept in a shed located in the small town of Nederland, Colorado. The townspeople were opposed to the idea of keeping frozen dead people and outlawed the keeping of any part or whole dead person! But because of the notoriety and media explosion covering Bredo Morstol, they made an exception, and so the festival began! It includes coffin races, a slow motion parade, and a Frozen Dead Guy lookalike contest.
This is another one that made me uncomfortable. Shrove Tuesday brings a very old and very controversial festival. A goose is hung from a wire or a pole then participants take turns trying to pull its head off. Thankfully animal rights activists ensured that only dead geese are used… which means they weren’t always. *shudder* as a
vegetarian compassionate human, this was the hardest festival to read about.
Couldn’t find an explanation for this! But this ones hundreds of years old. People run through the streets carrying burning barrels of tar. This is linked to Guy Fawkes as it happens on 5th November. Night settles and barrels are lit and placed upon the back of a carrier. When it becomes too much the barrel wearer hands it off to the next willing soul!
Around the turn of the 20th century a volcano nearly destroyed the small town of Nejapa. Residents gather together in the town square for a themed celebration throwing flaming rags at one another. *please do not try this at home!*
25. Konaki Sumo
This is one of THE weirdest festivals I came across. Who would have thought Sumos and babies went together! Every April wrestlers face off while holding babies to see who’s will cry first! Apparently its healthy for the babies to cry, umm….
Every fourth Sunday of January in in the Spanish town of Manganeses de la Polvorosa there is a completely bizarre festival. It consists of a young boy finding a goat, tying it up, and then throwing it from the top of the church belfry after which is supposedly caught by villagers on the ground. The goats aren’t always caught. Thankfully animal protesters in 2002 put a stop to the live goat throwing and now toy goats are thrown…
Also known as the baby jumping festival. What is it with babies and animals? This celebration makes me shudder. It occurs every year on the feast of Corpus Christi in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia. Any baby born in the previous 12 months is placed on a mattress in the street. Then all the adult men in the village take turns jumping over them.
28. Lantern Floating Festival in Hawaii
Their website says: ‘Held annually on Memorial Day on Oʻahu’s south shore, Lantern Floating Hawaii brings together over 40,000 people on the beach, joined by thousands around the world via live streaming and telecast for an evening of honoring loved ones and generating collective hope toward the future.
Lantern Floating Hawaii is a ceremony where all can come together for a personal and collective moment of remembrance, reflection, and offering gratitude to those who have gone before us. It is a chance to be surrounded by the love, understanding, and support of others – even strangers. We are strengthened as a community as we reach out to support others and build understanding of our common values and experiences.’
The Festival of Lights is celebrated all around Thailand with Loi Krathongs (lotus-shaped receptacles). Usually these are released on water to bring good luck and fulfill wishes. But in a place called Chiang Mai, the festival is different. Instead of down into the water they release thousands of lighted lanterns into the sky and make wishes.
The Sapporo Snow Festival was started in 1950. Because a high school student built a few snow statues in Odori Park. It has become a large, commercialized event that features spectacular snow and ice sculptures some measuring more than 25 meters wide and 15 meters high. There are a dozen large sculptures and a 100 smaller ones, the even now attracts 2 million visitor and a host of concerts and events.
This festival definitely took the biscuit for bonkers. It’s a festival for the penis. Frankly, I want to know where the vagina festival is?! Penises are reflected in illustrations, candy, carved vegetables, decorations, and a mikoshi parade. The festival is popular among those wishing for marriages and protection for prostitutes from STDs among other things. There is a legend behind this festival.
It is said a sharp-toothed demon (vagina dentata) hid inside the vagina of a young woman. It castrated two young men on their wedding nights. As a result, the young woman sought help from a blacksmith, who fashioned an iron phallus to break the demon’s teeth, which lead to the enshrinement of the item.
In Italian culture, horns represent a man who has been cheated on. This association is said to date back to the Roman Empire. Many warriors left for battle for extended periods of time. When they returned, they were given a pair of horns as a gift. This is because when they returned to their homes, they often found their wives had left them for other men. So the word “cornuto” was coined to refer to a man who has been cheated on. In Rocca Canterano, men who have been wronged by their better halves march through the streets, sometimes weeping or breaking objects given to them by their former lovers. The parade is meant to honour and console the men.
Residents of Harbin spit at the Siberian winter by building a city made exclusively of ice. Laser technology and traditional sculpting techniques are used to construct the chilly metropolis, which melts into the history books with the arrival of spring.
The Spanish annual tomato food fight, La Tomatina. That’s small fry compared to Italy’s Battle of the Oranges. The origins of this festival are unclear, but seriously being hit in the face by citrus fruit has GOT to be painful. Apparently no one cares, because thousands turn up for the fight.
I have no idea how, but on one particular year crowds at this sheep shearing festival grew so large that the army were drafted in to control them. It’s mostly about speed and the quality of the cut as contestants compete for the championship title.
Dating back to the 16th century, Calcio Fiorentino is an annual ‘football’ tournament like no other. It permits punching, head-butting and wrestling. Players don period costume for the games, which take place in a sandy ring in Florence. The victorious team wins a cow.
Sugar sales in Bacolod dissolved in the 1980s so the local government decided to put on a ‘festival of smiles’ to rejuvenate the areas low morale. The outcome was this 20 day extravaganza of carnival spirit, brightly painted masks, street dancing, horticultural shows, food tastings and the all important MassKara Queen beauty pageant.
Every year competitors descend onto a Delaware field to see how far they can launch a pumpkin. Simple? No. The devices used to catapult the pumpkins are feats of engineering mastery. This festival fuels industrial innovation. All profits go towards local education initiatives.
A petite partner is favourable in the Wife Carrying Championships but although it helps in navigating the assault course in the quickest time. It counts against them when organisers award the prize… the wife’s weight in beer.
Teams are given a square metre of land in the middle of a field and tasked with “charming” as many worms as possible to the surface from the soil-y lair in 15 minutes. Strategies vary wildly and there’s only rule: you can’t dig them out! Some competitors woo the worms with song, others sprinkle water on their patch of ground to replicate a soft spring rain. If you cheat your punishment is getting put in the stocks and publicly humiliated!
The festival features all things frog: frog races, frog jumping, the selection of the Frog Derby Queen and, naturally, lots of Cajun-style frogs’ legs to eat. The self-proclaimed Frog Capital of the World also showcases local, regional and national musical talent and holds a variety of frog-themed runs, fairs and other activities.
42. Roswell UFO Festival
And now, for the last, I couldn’t not put this one in! The Roswell UFO incident where a report was made of an object crashing near Roswell, New Mexico, in June or July 1947. Allegedly it was an extra-terrestrial spacecraft with alien occupants. The Roswell Army Air Field was quoted saying a “flying disk” had been recovered from the scene. But the next day, the statement was retracted and changed. Apparently it was just a ‘balloon’. This sparked the start of 60 years of controversy and an entire generation with a fascination for aliens and cover ups.
There is an annual parade where participants can dress up in alien-like costumes and attend conferences given by alien experts and authors.
That’s it folks. What a list. There are dozens more festivals that focus on vegetables, a tomato throwing festival in Spain, turnip carving festival in Switzerland and several more on animals – like the Spanish bull run through town.
What do you think? Have you got unusual festivals or celebrations in your stories? Or do you know of any in real life that I have missed?
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