5 of the World’s Quirkiest Festivals to Partake In
You’ve probably taken part in enough water fights at Songkran, or completed a few Color Runs that these run-of-the-mill ceremonies no longer excite you. If you want to unleash your inner daredevil and take it up a notch, here are 5 alternative festivals across the globe that a lot more exhilarating and downright weird.
The Battle of the Oranges, Italy
Ever fantasised about being part of a rowdy food fight? Italy’s yearly orange-themed festival lets you go all out on a mammoth scale. Hysterically dubbed the Battle of the Oranges, this ludicrous tradition takes place over three days every February in the quiet little town of Ivrea, which comes to life for this raucous festivity.
Contrary to what you may think, it’s not all chaos and unstructured furore. Those who don’t want to partake in the senseless tossing of tropical fruits, and don’t want to be dirtied either, have to wear a red hat. The participants are split into two groups, one to represent royal guards riding in carriages, one to represent the common folk on the ground. They are then separated into nine tribes.
While a bizarre sight and a great source of amusement for the uninitiated, this festival is in fact a re-enactment of a revolt against dictatorship that occurred in the Middle Ages. It’s been reported that about 256,000 kg of oranges end up as slurry on the streets of Ivrea every year—a bit of a waste that nonetheless help to clean and polish the cobblestone streets.
The Tomato Throwing Festival, Spain
The Spanish version of the Battle of the Oranges is La Tomatina, an annual tomato-based food fight that occurs on the pavements of Bunol—another small town in an obscure corner of Europe. Unlike its Italian rival, however, this shenanigan lasts only an hour.
What you might not know is that it starts with a piece of jamón suspended from the top of a pole that’s been generously oiled, which participants compete to retrieve while being hosed with water. Once it’s been retrieved, the pelting begins.
Apparently originated from a street fight in 1945, it uses only overripe tomatoes that have been squashed prior to the actual tossing—a safety measure that keeps anyone from losing an eye or leg. If you’re smart, you’ll come in swimwear and goggles.
The Cheese Rolling Festival, England
In line with the food-related theme of the world’s wackiest festivals, here’s another one that involves an element of throwing, although it’s less about throwing food at each other, but more about throwing yourself off a hill.
More specifically, the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling Festival is a contest where players have to chase and obtain a 9-pound Double Gloucester cheese wheel that’s rolling down a hill. The cheese gets a one-second head start, and whoever makes it to the bottom first (or actually catches the cheese, although it’s highly unlikely) will win it.
Considering that it’s also quite a steep hill, most tend to make their way down with caution, though the festival has seen its fair share of aggressive thrill-seekers who simply launch themselves off the top and tumble all the way to the hospital. As dangerous as it can be, it has never stopped the locals from participating every year.
The Baby Jumping Festival, Spain
Every summer in the remote village of Castrillo de Murcia, citizens willingly surrender their newborn infants to be laid on mattresses on the streets, while strange men in wild costumes leap over them like hurdles in a race, at the risk of accidentally crushing one of the babies.
The uninitiated would never guess this silly exercise is rooted in religion. Taking place during the holy feast of Corpus Christi, it is a little-known Catholic tradition that has been in practice since the early 17th century. Known as El Colacho, which means the devil’s jump, it is like a modified version of an infant baptism.
The masked men in yellow suits represent the devil incarnate, cleansing the children from sin as they barrel across them. According to the ritual, the evil spirits that reside in the babies will leave their souls and follow the devil surrogates instead, during the jumps, concluding with a shower of rose petals over the purified babes.
The Naked Festival, Japan
Hosted in Okayama’s Saidaiji Temple, this annual Japanese ceremony sees massive hordes of men stripping down to their underwear (or a loin cloth) in pursuit of luck and prosperity. Otherwise known as the Hadaka Matsuri, this peculiar custom has been around for more than 500 years.
Held on the third Saturday of February, it begins with everyone writing down their personal information on a piece of paper and stuffing it in their underwear. Once the clock strikes 12, at the dawn of a new day, a priest will throw a wooden talisman (shingi) into the crowd. The first man to catch it and plunge it into a rice-filled box (masu) will be blessed with a year of happiness.