Worlds strangest festivals
March 27, 2012 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Germany has the Oktoberfest, Brazil has the Rio carnival. What are the lesser known, strange and fun festivals around the world?

I've recently learned there's an annual get-drunk-and-fight-each-other festival in Peru. Norwegians have a day where everyone dresses up, wave flags, and eat hot-dogs. I'm looking for more examples in the same category.
posted by cheerleaders_to_your_funeral to Travel & Transportation (61 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
In Boston's North End, the Feast of St. Anthony is known around the world. It's huge there; not sure if it's celebrated the same way in Italy.
posted by Melismata at 12:56 PM on March 27, 2012

The Damariscotta Pumpkin Regatta is, well, exactly what it says it is. A boat race featuring giant pumpkins.
posted by gauche at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012

The giant tomato fight in Spain.
posted by brainmouse at 12:57 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

In Netherlands, the celebrate Koninginnedag.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:00 PM on March 27, 2012

Not necessarily strange, but Edinburgh has the Fringe Festival.
posted by Rewind at 1:01 PM on March 27, 2012

I hear the Blanchard, LA Poke Salad Festival is blowin' up, y'all.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Louisiana Irish Italian parade. Because all parades in New Orleans are required to have "throw's", this one has the ingredients for an Irish stew (cabbages, potato, carrots), as well as an Italian pasta dinner (spaghetti, tomato) included along with the traditional beads.
posted by Runes at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2012

Wakefield, Virginia has an annual shad planking.
posted by downing street memo at 1:05 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Japan's got the Kanamara Matsuri, which translates to "Festival of the Steel Phallus." It is exactly what it sounds like.
posted by griphus at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Cheese-Rolling Festival in Gloucestershire
posted by grapesaresour at 1:12 PM on March 27, 2012

Nederland, CO has Frozen Dead Guy Days.
posted by hackwolf at 1:13 PM on March 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

Baltimore has the Kinetic Sculpture Race, which our own sonascope has kicked off in previous years.
posted by postel's law at 1:17 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Valencia has a several-days-long festival where they shoot off fireworks. (I don't know the details, sorry, my brother lived there when I was younger.)
Copenhagen has a night party when Carlsberg releases the annual Christmas beer. It's in late November, Santa and the elves (all in blue) drive the beer trucks around to all the bars and give out free beer. The elves pass out lyrics and everybody sings the song.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 1:24 PM on March 27, 2012

Wales has the Eisteddfod (Wikipedia).
posted by humph at 1:34 PM on March 27, 2012

Salley, South Carolina has the Chitlin' Strut, a festival for deep-fried pig intestines.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:37 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

India just celebrated Holi, a day of throwing water balloons filled with dye and brightly colored powder and that is just NUTS. I saw kids lurking in apartment windows carrying super soakers filled with green and blue dye, stalking their prey. And I only recently learned that some folks drink a hashish drink at the temples on Holi and consequently packs of dudes roam around in a dazed high, splattered head to toe with blue and green and pink and yellow, and then pass out in a multicolored pile on the sidewalks.
posted by sestaaak at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

For years, Gravel Switch, KY has been home to both an outhouse race and an ugly leg contest for men.
posted by jbickers at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2012

Harriman, TN offers the Polk Salad Festival. Entertainingly, they have misspelled the name of the plant they honor.
posted by workerant at 1:42 PM on March 27, 2012

There's the Pierogi Festival in Whiting, IN (just outside of Chicago), complete with pierogi eating contest, Precision Lawnmower Drill Team, and Twirling Babushka Brigade.
posted by bolognius maximus at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2012

Venice has its own Carnival.
posted by novalis_dt at 1:59 PM on March 27, 2012

The Henley-on-Todd is the world's only dry-river regatta.
posted by pompomtom at 2:01 PM on March 27, 2012

Santa Fe burns Zozobra every year.
posted by vorfeed at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2012

Mule Day is a celebration of all things mule-related in Columbia, Tennessee. And it's this weekend! Who wants to go?
posted by zoetrope at 2:08 PM on March 27, 2012

Liberal, Kansas and Olney, England have an International Pancake Day Race. It has enough events around the race that could qualify it as a festival.

I think it's just a single event, but Beaver, Oklahoma has the World Championship Cow Chip Throw.
posted by ThisKindNepenthe at 2:13 PM on March 27, 2012

Mansfield, Pennsylvania is home to the Fabulous 1890s festival, which commemorates the first football game played under electric lights played there in 1892.
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:20 PM on March 27, 2012

Junkanoo in the Bahamas.
posted by ootsocsid at 2:24 PM on March 27, 2012

The Gilroy Garlic festival.
posted by jasper411 at 2:33 PM on March 27, 2012

In Thailand, there's Songkran, the festival where (mostly) kids pour water on each other.
posted by Mchelly at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2012

Nyepi in Bali with its Ogoh-ogohs.
Songkran is New Years in Thailand, but it lasts three to seven days, and involves a lot of water and white powder.
Shandur Polo Festival in Pakistan.
posted by gman at 2:34 PM on March 27, 2012

The Bridgewater, Virginia, Volunteer Fire Department has a Annual Gas and Steam Meet.

There are various Maple Festivals in upstate New York during March. Yum!
posted by jgirl at 2:43 PM on March 27, 2012

The Valencia several-days-long festival involving fireworks mentioned above is Las Fallas! And it is not just fireworks - you set fire to things, too! And make a whole lot of noise! Basically, if something can blow up or make a loud noise in an exciting way, this is the festival for it. (I don't know if that is all that strange, really. And I am certainly no expert. But since someone has brought it up...)

It was held last week. I was there for some of it, and it was so much fun that it just might have changed the way I take holidays. I think I will now be travelling specifically for awesome festivals.

It starts in March and builds up to the big final night on March the 19th (I was there from the 17th). The weekend is sort of a haze of awesome and I still have ringing in my ears, but let me break some of it down for you:

+ Neighbourhoods of the city build massive (some are up to 5 stories high!) effigies of whatever they want to make fun of that year (and no, they do not shy away from offensive racist stereotypes when depicting different countries [not cool!], or some fairly sexual stuff [cool!]. I mean, I definitely saw a Pinocchio with a dildo for a nose. And lots of tits and bulges etc). These are all satirical and while I do not know enough Spanish or Valencian politics to get all the nuances, I did pick up on some more international bits. There are lots around. Lots of blocked off streets turned into falla appreciation/firecracker free for alls. The large fallas would have a smaller, innocent one for children nearby without the layers of satire, but with a similar theme. So, if one had Prince Charming with an erection looking interested in a Frog Prince (for instance!), the children's one would be fairytale-inspired without the erections. (I was going to say without the nod to bestiality, but then I remembered that I was talking about fairytales. So...)

+ Fireworks. Glorious professional firework displays at 1am each night. Children setting off firecrackers on the street all day and night. Lots of this!

+ Marching bands during the day! Many! Marching about! Valencians in traditional dress! Lots! Parading about! (Re. traditional clothing: pinstriped trousers really are timeless. Some guys were from areas that had favoured velvet skirts instead. That look was less timeless.) It's a big days long street party, basically.

+ Mascletà! This was probably my favourite thing. You know how in a firework display, it's all about what you see? In the Mascletà, it's about what you hear. So...gunpower going off in this amazing, rhythmic, deafeningly-awesome concert. It's SO GOOD. And just like everything else for Las Fallas, there was the main one in the middle of the city, and then individual neighbourhoods would do their own. And I don't know if there was some sort of pissing match between neighbourhoods, but I suspect so. Because the neighbourhood ones were ridiculous. By which I mean Very Very Good.

+ The Burning. Remember those massive effigies? Finally, at midnight on the 19th (the childrens ones are burnt at 10pm), everyone gathers around a falla of their choice, as close as is deemed safe by the firefighters standing by (and they must get them in from neighbouring areas for Las Fallas, because it is a very fire-happy occasion), and the fallas are draped with firecrackers (like twinkling lights on a christmas tree, only more explode-y) and then set on fire. Then, in my experience, you say "ooooh!" and then it gets hot and the crowd gets pushed back by the heat, and then the fire suddenly gets a bit out of hand for a moment and the firefighters shout at you and everyone has to run away, and then once the initial *whooomph!* has passed, everyone can come back close, laughing like you can only do after having just escaped Death By Out Of Control Festival.

But as I say, I think fire and firecrackers and fireworks and food (there is a lot of paella!) is a very reasonable thing to base a festival around, so this is probably not much of a chance at being "world's strangest". YMMV.
posted by coffeepot at 2:48 PM on March 27, 2012 [3 favorites]

Up Helly Aa. Shetland, the UK's northernmost isle, closer to the Arctic Circle than to London, has a tradition of building a Viking galley, then dressing up as Vikings and setting it on fire.

The Whittlesea Straw Bear Festival, during which someone spends a weekend dancing around dressed as a straw bear. Then the costume (without the person in it) is set on fire.

The Abbots Bromley Horn Dance, unlike the above two, is an unbroken tradition going back to at least 1226. The horns themselves have been carbon dated to over 1000 years old. Nothing, unfortunately, gets set on fire, though as a consolation there is drunkenness.

More British fun here.
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:53 PM on March 27, 2012

Vorfeed beat me to Zozobra.
posted by mon-ma-tron at 3:23 PM on March 27, 2012

South Africa has the National Arts Festival. It's supposed to be the largest theatre festival in the southern hemisphere.
posted by guster4lovers at 3:29 PM on March 27, 2012

The Netherlands has Koninginnedag (Queen's Day) on April 30th.
posted by cwarmy at 3:31 PM on March 27, 2012

At the end of May (although this year its in June), Gloucestershire has the cheese rolling where a horde of brave/drunk souls chase a cheese, off a cliff.
posted by prentiz at 3:40 PM on March 27, 2012

Guinea Pig Festival in Peru. (Warning: This one has cute pics of dressed up ones, but they do eat others.)
Link 2, More pics (Maybe don't click this one if you love them as pets.)
posted by Glinn at 3:42 PM on March 27, 2012

Parkes is a town at the end of a long train trip into the central west of NSW which holds an Elvis Festival.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 3:44 PM on March 27, 2012

Ottery St Mary in the UK has a tar barrel festival, in which burly men run down the streets carrying huge flaming barrels. Chaos ensues.
posted by hnnrs at 4:19 PM on March 27, 2012

The Elfstedentocht in the Netherlands sounds really cool and has an awesome description by goodnewsfortheinsane right on our very own MetaFilter.
posted by lostburner at 4:27 PM on March 27, 2012

New Zealand (Hokitika, specifically) has the Wildfoods Festival, where people eat bugs and worms and things.

When I lived in Germany, our local region had a "strawberry and asparagus festival" every year, which, while laudable things to celebrate, seemed a very specific combination.
posted by lollusc at 4:28 PM on March 27, 2012

The Great Arcata to Ferndale Kinetic Grand Championship (the triathlon of the Art World) is a 3-day race along California's northern coast from Arcata to Ferndale. Racers construct and compete in all variety of people-powered kinetic contraptions, pedaling along roads, across beaches, and through water.
posted by ocherdraco at 4:34 PM on March 27, 2012

In Taiwan, the Yanshui fireworks festival. Put on long clothes, a helmet and a towel and join in the fun!
posted by Gomez_in_the_South at 5:57 PM on March 27, 2012

Saint Nicholas day and Krampusnacht in Austria (but I've got a soft spot for people hitting one another with sticks).
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 6:05 PM on March 27, 2012

Medford Lakes, New Jersey has its annual Canoe Carnival every August (since 1929). There are some photos here and here . This is a parade held at night where each float must be balanced on two canoes, which have to be propelled around a lake by paddlers (no motors allowed, though generators are used for lights and such on the floats.) The town pretty much shuts down, everyone puts Christmas lights on their houses and there are lots of parties.
posted by gudrun at 6:09 PM on March 27, 2012

Boryeong (South Korea) Mud Festival
posted by fso at 8:49 PM on March 27, 2012

Not exactly unknown Notting Hill Carnival 26 / 27 August
Fiestas de san Juan especially in Barcelona and throughout Catalunya and notably Ciudadella , Menorca
Correfoc - Running with fire
Ottery Tar Barrels
Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling
Here is a 68 page pdf guide to Mediterranean Fiestas
posted by adamvasco at 10:38 PM on March 27, 2012

Irmo, South Carolina has the Okra Strut, complete with boiled okra eating contest, an Okra Queen, and the Irmo High School football team playing in the Okra Bowl.
posted by infodiva at 11:05 PM on March 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh, and a parade. Can't forget the parade!
posted by infodiva at 11:06 PM on March 27, 2012

The town of Cuba, New York has a garlic festival. Elba, New York has an onion festival. Rochester, New York has the Lilac Festival.
posted by knile at 11:57 PM on March 27, 2012

Switzerland's carnival is called Fasnacht - here's how they celebrate it in Basel. Old photographs of the costumes look pretty frightening! Bern also has a yearly onion market/festival. I'm sure there are lots more bizarre Swiss festivals too.
posted by daisyk at 12:57 AM on March 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I forgot Sechseläuten and the Böögg! Zürich celebrates the beginning of spring by setting fire to a 'snowman' with explosives in the head. The time it takes his head to explode determines how good the summer will be. I hope to see it this year, if I haven't already missed <it
posted by daisyk at 1:02 AM on March 28, 2012

In Brazil there are other festivals besides carnaval, for instance Boi de Parintins in the Amazon region, based more on indigenous brazilian rather than african culture, they play carimbó-derived music instead of samba. It is marketed as a less sexualized, more family friendly carnaval alternative.

Instead of samba schools there are two teams, Boi Caprichoso and Boi Garantido, competing to retell the traditional story of a ressurected ox.
posted by Tom-B at 6:53 AM on March 28, 2012

Land O' Lakes, FL, used to have a Flapjack Festival (flapjack = pancake), but apparently it was discontinued a couple of years ago. It seems they have replaced it with Swampfest.
posted by jshort at 9:04 AM on March 28, 2012

Punkin Chunkin, held outside Lewes Delaware (US) the weekend after Halloween.
posted by MichelleinMD at 9:17 AM on March 28, 2012

Lisdoonvarna, Co Clare, Ireland.

TedFest, the Father Ted festival on Inis Mór off the Galway coast, Ireland.

And scuba fans will likely want to know about the town festival that happens in the home locale of this entirely real diving club, if only for the souvenirs.
posted by genghis at 9:58 AM on March 28, 2012

Tampa, Florida has Gasparilla, where pirates take over the city.
posted by that girl at 11:14 AM on March 28, 2012

The World Black Pudding Throwing Championship in Bury, England.
posted by idiomatika at 5:14 PM on March 28, 2012

I was looking for more of these and discovered a list of the "top 10" festivals for people to throw things at each other.
posted by knile at 1:49 AM on March 29, 2012

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