The Human race can never be predicted. Our world is full 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.
W.C. Fields once said, “Never work with children or animals; they are scene-stealing and completely unpredictable.” Well, the Good Dog! International Film Festival in Sydney aims to contradict this distinguished actor. Held annually in December, this festival features animated and live action movies that include dogs, and all profits are donated to Australian and International dog charities. This is also a competition for “Best in Show,” and if that is not enough for dog lovers, there is another Sydney festival called the Easter Dog Parade (naturally taking place each Easter). Prizes are awarded for best dog trick, the fluffiest dog, the waggiest tail, the happiest dog, the best biscuit catcher, and the best impersonation of a dog by a human.
The Chinchilla Melon Festival takes place in January or February each year in Chinchilla, Queensland and involves, of course, melons. The town is known as the melon capital of Australia, producing 25% of all Australian melons. So what do they do with these melons? There is melon skating, a melon triathlon, melon bungee jumping, and melon tossing, to name a few events. I leave it to you to imagine how they undertake these events.
The Mary Poppins Festival takes place in Mayborough, Queensland every summer in the birthplace of P.L. Travers, author of the book, Mary Poppins. This is generally a 10-day program of storytelling for all ages through all art forms. It includes music concerts, artists’ exhibitions, and a search of rooftops… to presumably look for Mary Poppins!
You have probably heard of the famous Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona, Spain. Well, it seems that festival inspired the “running of the Jaffa cakes” with the Cadbury Jaffa Race, held in Dunedin on the South Island – albeit, without the blood and gore. Each July, thousands of people line the streets to watch around 75,000 Jaffa balls roll down the steepest street in the world, Baldwin Street. First, 25,000 traditional red Jaffas are released, then 25,000 yellow, and finally 25,000 pink Jaffas roll down the street, leaving a sticky mess behind them. “It’s a sight you just have to see to believe,” say the organizers. I believe them!!
The World of Wearable Arts Awards Show in Wellington is, again quoting the organizers, “New Zealand’s largest sell-out performance show with more than 58,000 show goers from around the world attending every year.” It is a spectacle of dance, theatre, music, and art where designers from around the world can enter their creation in a competition which includes costumes and designs which models show off. Another quote from the organizers, “The high energy show needs no narration, no explanation and has no language barriers.”
Again, just like that other festival in Spain about bulls running amok, the Running of the Sheep Festival takes place in Te Kuiti, located 80 kilometres/50 miles north of Hamilton in the North Island, and known as the “Sheep Shearing Capital of the World.” The festival coincides with the Great NZ Muster. It is the largest sheep run anywhere, held the week after Easter. It seems around 2000 sheep run down the town’s main street. Pamplona, you certainly started something. Sideshows include sheep shearing contests, food stalls, live music, and exhibitions of local arts and crafts.
A widespread event is the Hungry Ghosts Festival, which takes place in many parts of Asia – China, Hong Kong, Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, plus other Buddhist-oriented countries. It is a traditional Buddhist festival held on the fifteenth night of the seventh month (fourteenth in Southern China). I leave you to work this one out. It seems the seventh month in the lunar calendar is called the Ghost Month. It is when the living descendants pay homage to their deceased ancestors, and the deceased are believed to visit the living. Activities during the month include preparing ritualistic food offerings, burning incense, and making paper-mache forms of material items such as clothes and other goods for the visiting spirits of the ancestors.
I have always thought of the Japanese as sensible and well-grounded. However, the Konaki Sumo Festival, which takes place in Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple, makes me wonder. For 400 years, Japanese Sumo wrestlers have been trying to make babies cry. I quickly add that they do not physically harm the babies. They simply pick them up and hold them. Maybe that’s enough, come to think of it, to make anyone cry. The tradition is believed to bring good health to the infants. How is the winner selected? The first baby to cry is the winner. If no baby cries within seconds, a referee enters the ring and tries to scare them by making faces or loud noises. Only in Japan!
A more sedate and “normal” festival in Hong Kong is the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which takes place on the eighth day of the fourth month of the Chinese calendar (usually in early May). Well, that was easy to calculate, wasn’t it? It coincides with the local celebration of Buddha’s Birthday. 60,000 buns are produced by a local baker for the festival. You would think there would be a temptation to throw buns around and at each other, but no. Three large, and many smaller towers are built out of bamboo and covered with the steamed buns. The bun towers are erected outside the Pak Tai Temple. This is followed up with a parade on the third day, when the buns are then given out to the locals – quite possibly stale by then but they can be toasted, I suppose. What are the origins of this festival? Well, vaguely, the celebration of the end of a plague in times gone by. The connection? Who knows.
India is a country steeped in tradition and mystical rituals. The Holi Hindu Spring Festival is celebrated in both India and Nepal and signifies the victory of good over evil. So, what better way to do that than smear each other with colours and drench each other with water (water guns or water-filled balloons are the methods of use). Anyone who happens to be around at the time gets the treatment. People carry drums and other musical instruments and go from place to place while singing and dancing. People visit family, friends, and enemies to throw coloured powders at each other. Messy but fun.
Another water-throwing festival is in Thailand, at the start of the new calendar year. The Songkran Water Festival is when everyone, all over the country, good-naturedly covers each other with water to wish for a year filled with blessings. If visiting Thailand at this time, wear some waterproof clothes!
Another messy festival is the Boryeong Mud Festival in South Korea, 200 kilometres/120 miles south of Seoul. Everybody gets to cover each other in mud, after which, there are contests like “Mr Mud,” mud wrestling, and mud races. For the non-active, there are mud facials, body painting, pottery demonstrations, and lying covered in mud on the beach. Available for a fee are access to showers! Added to the mud throwing are concerts and firework displays. The slogan for the festival is “All are one under the mud.”
Now this one you have to like. Every year in Bali, locals celebrate Omed Omedan, or, the Kissing Ritual. This 100-year-old festival is for unmarried youth to express their joy on the first day of the New Year. It starts with a procession with youths praying together. Then the men and women separate and face each other. Upon a signal, male participants pull over and kiss the female participants while locals pour water over them. I understand many couples have met this way. It certainly beats coming up with lines like, “which star you were you born under?”
South America (General)
The Ano Viejo (literally, translated, Old Year) is an event when, at midnight on the last day of the year, old clothes, cardboard, paper or straw are often stuffed with fireworks and burned to celebrate the incoming year. This practice is carried out in several Latin American countries, from Mexico to Uruguay, and quite often, dolls and puppets are burnt. The underlying meaning of this ritual is that one is “burning away” the past and allowing the future to begin – not unlike Guy Fawkes Night in the UK, but that is a burning for a different reason.
A Mexican friend of mine once presented me with a painted ghoul’s head and wished me a good “Day of the Dead.” The head was made of sugar, to be eaten as candy. The Day of the Dead is actually a national holiday in Mexico and a day to remember friends and members of the family who have passed on. It coincides with our All Saints’ Day. It is when people visit graves and leave gifts such as flowers, food, and beverages, and sometimes belongings of the deceased. I have experienced this type of festival in parts of Europe and I believe it is celebrated in other Latin American countries too.
In Tankwa Karoo, in the Northern Cape, is a festival called Afrikaburn. Held in April, it is an annual seven-day festival of art, music, and performance. The aim is to “foster giving and letting go of material goods and to enjoy the outdoors and reclaim some essence of human nature.” It centres around the construction of temporary artworks in a semi-desert environment, some of which are burnt towards the end of the event. You are encouraged, when attending, to wear something playful and unique – perhaps as an arsonist? To be serious, it is a well-meaning event. Nothing is for sale. It is about giving and not expecting anything in return.
If you are a “frog person,” why not head to Chrissiesmeer in Mpumalanga where in December, they celebrate their annual Padda Nag Frog Night. Groups of people wade into the wet and soggy wetland area with torches, gumboots, and buckets searching for different frog species on a frog hunt. It is advertised as “Fun for the Whole Family.”
Ripley’s Believe it or Not may contain stranger activities, but from the above, you can certainly see what a diverse and fascinating world we live in. It also makes me realize just how the world has evolved over time, leaving us with many legacies to experience.
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