Humanity: We’ll celebrate anything. But this is out of control. As what we refer to as the “holiday season” in the United States is upon us, we thought it was time to explore the cultural traditions of the rest of the world — especially the really weird ones. In this feature, you’ll learn all about ten holidays that make ours look positively normal. And since we celebrate a fat guy coming into our house in the middle of the night while we’re asleep, that’s saying a lot. Here are ten bizarre holidays from around the world.
People have some pretty weird ways of showing their appreciation. Take the residents of the Spanish village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa, who pay tribute to St. Vincent every year by throwing a goat out of a church belfry 50 feet to the ground and trying to catch it in a sheet. The festival of San Vicente de Martir is a huge party, with the goat being paraded through town to the cheers of villagers. Well, unless the goat dies from the fall. Then they put it off in a corner and have the festival, anyway. Nobody knows exactly how the tradition of scaring the crap out of an innocent barnyard animal started, but in 2002, it was permanently banned, so we may never know.
Up Helly Aa
You know what really lights up a winter evening? A humungous fire. The holiday season in Scotland is typically ended by a “fire festival,” and the largest and craziest of them is Up Helly Aa. Held in the town of Shetland, the celebration involves up to a thousand “guizers,” locals dressed up like Viking pillagers, marching through town carrying flaming torches. Their destination is a replica Viking warship, which all of the pseudo-Vikings surround and sing to before tossing their torches at it and burning it to the ground. One of the more bizarre aspects of Up Helly Aa is that women aren’t allowed to participate, so plenty of Shetland locals get their ya-yas out by dressing as girls for the occasion.
One of many Japanese holidays that spring forth from the Shinto religion, Kanamara Matsuri is also probably the most … arousing. Translating as “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” this is a celebration of the male dinger and all of its abilities. The geographical center of this holiday, which happens around the first Sunday in April, is the Kanayama shrine in the Japanese city of Kawasaki. The shrine is famous for being where prostitutes went to pray to be protected against STDs. A local folktale also involves the legend of a young woman who had a demon hiding inside her vagina. A local blacksmith forged an iron dong to break the demon’s teeth and set her free. That tale and others are recreated and celebrated during Kanamara Matsuri.
Ever since 1945, the small Spanish town of Bunol has been host to a truly bizarre and hilarious event that takes over the streets on the third week of August. La Tomatina starts with a competition where the town’s young men try to climb a greased pole to get a ham on top. When one finally dislodges the pork, things go truly crazy and Bunol explodes into one of the world’s largest food fights. Over 150,000 tomatoes are specially shipped in and pre-crushed for locals and tourists alike to throw at each other in an orgy of vegetable carnage.
Monkey Buffet Festival
Most of the holidays on this list are for the benefit of people. Thailand’s annual Monkey Buffet Festival is the only one we know of that’s for our lesser relatives in the animal kingdom. Thailand’s Lopburi province, according to legend, was gifted to the monkey king Hanuman by the great hero Rama, and every year, on the last Sunday of November, locals lay out over 6,500 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables and let the approximately 600 monkeys of the region eat them all. The primates know the day is coming and go buckwild on the food, pleasing the spirit of Hanuman greatly.
Often times, holidays are declared to commemorate a historical event that needs to never be forgotten. For residents of Princeton, New Jersey, one of those historical events involves emptying your bladder. Peeing Day (also called Pissing Day) is a Revolutionary War remembrance that’s more than a little nasty. Apparently, after the American revolutionary troops expelled British general Charles Mawhood from Princeton, they whipped out their free penises and pissed all over his troops. Now, modern Princetonians re-create the Battle on the second Saturday of March, urination and all.
Original sin: we’re all stuck with it. In most Christian traditions, we get rid of it by being baptized. But the people of Castrillo de Murcia, a small town in northern Spain, have other ideas. Each year, they celebrate the festival of El Colacho, where they take all of the babies that were born over the last year, lay them out on mattresses in the street, and have men dressed as Satan run and jump over them. Is it safe? Oh, hell no. Pope Benedict has actually pressured the local Catholic clergy to distance themselves from the craziness.
Leave it to the Eastern Europeans to create a holiday that includes massive fistfights on purpose. The week-long celebration of Maslenitsa, held in late February or early March, is a joint celebration that marks the end of winter as well as the last week before Great Lent. People in this region have to abstain from a bunch of stuff during Lent, so it’s kind of like a last chance to go wild. And indeed they do, as Maslenitsa celebrations include eating tons of pancakes and singing around a bonfire. But the most notorious aspect of the holiday is the bare-knuckle street brawls, where men get together and box each other as a sign of respect and friendship.
Japan has a lot of oddly gendered holidays, but one of the most intense is Hadaka Matsuri. This is actually more like a festival than a holiday, as different regions host them at different times of the year, but they all have one thing in common: nearly naked men wrestling over sticks in huge numbers. How it works is this: Dudes go outside in the blistering winter cold, wearing only the traditional fundoshi loincloth (like sumo wrestlers wear) and then a Shinto priest tosses a sacred pole out of a temple window. If you can grab it and put it into a box full of rice, you get 100 years of good luck. But you’ll have to deal with the hundreds of other dudes trying to do it, as well. It’s a sweaty, fleshy apocalypse that is truly bizarre.
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Straw Bear Day
Many of our modern holidays are based on ancient pagan traditions. Thankfully, we’ve edited out a lot of the violence and human sacrifice parts. One that manages to persist to this day is the Straw Bear. Originally a German tradition, one of the most interesting places to see a Straw Bear is the British town of Whittlesea on Straw Bear Day. Held on the first Monday after Twelfth Night, the festival sees a local young man dressed up in a hot, uncomfortable costume made of straw and sent from house to house to dance for food and beer. At the end of his rounds, the bear is burned alive. Nowadays, they take the local young man out of the costume first.