Continuing our exploration of strange and unusual phenomena, when it comes to festivals, there is an abundance of unusual happenings taking place year round. Some derive from tradition, others are due to a prevailing quirky and unusual sense of humour. I have selected a number of strange, unusual, sometimes serious, sometimes whimsical festivals which can be attended while on various Goway vacation packages.
If you think the British can be, at times, eccentric, the following festivals in the United Kingdom will definitely convince you.
It is quite natural that the British love of cheese would bring about a festival involving this food item. In Cooper’s Hill near Gloucester, the Cheese Rolling Festival takes place every May. Of course, the cheese used is a 9lb round of Double Gloucester. Competitors roll their cheese down a steep hill and, like all races, the first one across the finish line behind their cheese is the winner. There are races for men, women, and children. The speed of these rolling cheeses can reach up to 112 kilometres/70 miles per hour. There are pubs which are involved with the event, reason being that “competitors frequent them for some pre-event Dutch courage or discussion of tactics and, after the event, for convalescence.” Naturally.
From cheese to a predominantly British dish, Yorkshire pudding is celebrated in England. The Yorkshire Pudding Boat Race takes place in Brawby in, yes, Yorkshire. Each contestant jumps into a large boat made of Yorkshire pudding, in the local river, and as soon as the gun goes off, they begin paddling. The puddings are very stable and do not sink or disintegrate. They are made from a special Yorkshire recipe containing flour, water, and eggs (no glue!).
The International Birdman Competitions are in the West Sussex towns of Bognor Regis and Worthing. They involve human beings attempting to fly off the end of a pier into the sea for prize money, while thousands of people adjourn to the beach to watch the contest. The competitor who reaches the longest distance is crowned the winner. There is excellent prize money, (30,000 Pounds for anyone exceeding 100 metres/330 feet). Both hang gliders and individually-designed “wings” are used. Of course, some people wear fancy dress.
I had not thought of the Spanish as being in the same class as the British when it comes to the unusual, but the following festivals give me second thoughts.
The El Colacho Baby Jumping festival has been around for centuries and takes place in Castrillo de Murcia, near Burgos in Northern Spain. Men dressed as the devil jump over babies born during the past 12 months, who are lying on mattresses in the middle of the street. The origins of this tradition are unknown but it is said it is to “cleanse the babies of original sin, ensure them safe passage through life and guard against illness and evil spirits.” There must be other ways to ensure this.
The Tomato Festival, also known as La Tomatina, is a festival held in the Valencian town of Bunol, located in Eastern Spain. Since 1945, it has been held on the last Wednesday of August. It starts off with tens of thousands of locals and visitors soaking each other with water. Then the tomatoes arrive by the truckload, after which the fight begins and everyone throws tomatoes at each other. It is estimated that around 145,000 kilograms/320,000 pounds of tomatoes are thrown. There are rules to be followed, such as the tomatoes must be squashed first to avoid injuries and only two can be thrown at the same person. Imagine the clean-up afterwards!
The Human Tower is an event and tradition which takes place in the Catalan region of Spain on an annual basis. It is called Castells in Spanish, meaning “castles.” This is where teams compete to build the tallest and most complex tower made of only human beings who stand on top of each other. Sometimes, they reach as high as a 10-storey building. The Castellers, as they are called, do not rely on sheer strength. Technique is also very important, as is balancing weight and height.
You may recall having food fights when you were a child. Well, some people don’t want to grow up (at least not all the time). Each year in Ivrea, close to Turin, in Northern Italy, they hold the Battle of the Oranges for three days, finishing on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The locals divide into nine very large teams (total collective numbers tend to be in the thousands. They then throw oranges at each other in an attempt to “kill” the other teams. Funnily enough, oranges don’t grow in this region and have to be brought from Sicily in the south. Around 265,000 kilograms/500,000 pounds of oranges are used. It is the largest food fight in Italy (but not as large as the Tomato Festival in Spain). Many people finish up with cuts and bruises, unlike the other event in Spain. If you don’t want to be thrown at, you must wear a red hat!
A town near Rome called Roca Canterano hosts an annual event called Festival of Horns (Festa del Cornuto). The horns are said to be a symbol for having been cheated on by a partner. Anyone with a partner who has been unfaithful can wear a set of horns and take part in the parade through the city to, symbolically, seek consolation from the onlookers. This custom dates back supposedly to the days of the Roman Empire, when many warriors left for long periods of time. When they returned, they were given a pair of horns as a gift. It seems that when they returned to their homes, they often found their wives had left them for other men. So, the term “cornuto” began to refer to a man who had been cheated on. Incidentally, if a festival attendee asks you if you’d like to “fare le corna” (make horns), they are not inviting you to actually manufacture horns!
If in Rome, do as the Romans do and attend the Rione Prati Carnival. The residents of the Prati District in Citta di Castello, Rome go back in time and return to the Renaissance period. Not literally, of course, but by wearing period costumes. Local bars and trattorias serve home-cooked meals and drink to “merry” things along. There are displays of medieval life, mock battles, and the tournament of the Big Ball. This is where four teams represent the four districts of Prati and play a game with a large ball.
No tomatoes, oranges, or mud involved with the World Bodypainting Festival held in Klagenfurt, Austria, but it could be messy. Artists from around 50 countries come to compete. It is held in June/July over a period of three days and attracts in excess of 30,000 spectators. Before the actual festival, there are workshops on how to body paint, as well as costume balls and stage performances. Artists compete with a given theme for the year in categories such as brush and sponge, airbrush, and special effects. Artists use models that normally start with being naked to eventually being totally covered in paint.
Want to put some pep into your married life? Consider attending the Wife Carrying World Championships in Sonkajarvi, Eastern Finland. The objective of the races is for a man to carry a woman over an obstacle course. In order to be unfair to the man, the woman must be over 17 years of age and weigh at least 49 kilograms/108 pounds. If a woman weighs less than the necessary minimum, extra items can be carried to make up the difference. And if your wife is reluctant to join in, you can borrow (not indefinitely) another man’s wife. I understand the race has its origins from the days when, if someone ran off with another man’s wife, he carried her off on his back. The winner is the couple who completes the course in the fastest time. There are other awards for best costume, most entertaining couple, and the carrier with the heaviest load (seems some women are okay with revealing their weight!).
The Air Guitar World Championships are held in Oulu, Finland. Contestants must play air guitar on a stage in two rounds, with each lasting at least one minute (one song is chosen by the participant and one by the organizer). The philosophy behind the event is “Wars would end and all the bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar.” No doubt!
The Hopping Procession in Luxembourg is totally unique. Also entitled “The Dancing Procession of Echternach,” the annual festival is held in June and is described as “Three steps forward; three steps back.” So, presumably, it goes nowhere, fast. It begins with a sermon delivered by a parish priest, after which the procession then travels through town to a basilica 1.5 kilometres/1 mile away. The participants wave white handkerchiefs while dancing or hopping from left to right. When they somehow arrive at the church, there are prayers and a benediction to conclude this event. It is on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity! This event dates back almost 1000 years so it can be excused for having no idea why it actually is performed this way.
This concludes my evidence to show what a unique and amazing world we live in, and Goway’s vacation packages are all there to help send you to all these festivals and events.