World's Wackiest Festivals

U.S. News & World Report

World's Wackiest Festivals

You can almost smell deep-fried funnel cakes in the air, and just about hear the screams from Ferris wheel riders or the melodious cacophony of numerous carnival games. You can practically see the tons of t-shirts and shorts milling about munching on cotton candy, sipping soda or standing in line at the spinning tea cup ride. Ahh, the all-American festival: yeah, they're fun, but they're also super predictable. Wouldn't it be amusing to partake in a truly one-of-a-kind celebration? Well, the festivals we feature are nothing if not unique: They involve pelting tomatoes, building beer can boats, vaulting over infants and more. Yeah, their customs are strange, but that's their allure. Keep reading for eight of the world's weirdest festivals.

The summertime Boryeong Mud Festival is one of the dirtiest celebrations around -- pardon the pun. Located on the western coast of South Korea, the city of Boryeong boasts Daecheon Beach, which is known for its beautifying mud. Boryeong's goo has been proven to nourish and promote the elasticity and firmness of skin. And since 1998, the city has capitalized on its mud with this filthy festival. There are a number of ways to participate: You can wrestle, slide through, or even build a human pyramid in the gray-brown earth. At night, you can enjoy your mud mask under a spray of fireworks. Whichever way you decide to partake, you're bound to enjoy some good clean -- ahem, soiled -- fun in Boryeong.

Who knew that downing cans of beer could actually help someone? The Darwin Lions Beer Can Regatta attests that a bunch of empties means a lot more than a hangover. In this case, the beer cans are built into boats and used to raise money for charity (spectators must make a donation). The captains of these beer-can boats race them in Australia's Darwin Harbour. Well, race is probably the wrong verb. Many of the homemade vessels just bobble about before slowly sinking, which explains why all shipmates are required to wear life vests. Hey, it's all for a good cause, right? This festival has been going on since 1974, and the competitions have now multiplied -- there is tug-of-war, thong-throwing contests (the shoes, not the unmentionables), sand castle competitions and more. All in all, the mid-July regatta offers fun for the whole family (even the ones younger than the national drinking age of 18).

This is one of the world's most disturbing festivals: Baby jumping? What genius thought that would be a good idea? One misstep, and ughh, we shudder to picture the aftermath. But El Salto del Colacho or "the Devil's Jump" does, in fact, occur in the northern Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia. The tradition dates back to the Middle Ages and is said to wash the participating babies from original sin. This is how it works: Five or six babies younger than the age of one are placed on padded beds, after which costumed men leap over them, almost as if they were hurdles. The festival takes place every year on the Roman Catholic holiday of Corpus Christi. Protective maternal types -- this isn't the festival for you.

What do you get when you mix vicious Vikings and blazing fires together? The Up Helly Aa Viking Fire Festival, of course. Every year on the last Tuesday in January, it's as if Lerwick, Shetland -- located on an island just off the coast of Scotland -- conjures its ancestors up from the grave. But the celebration actually has a much more modern origin, at least according to the United Kingdom's standards. In the 1880s, the official theme (Vikings and fire) was established. And the popular festival has run annually except in years where history dictated the cancellations, such as in 1901 at the death of Queen Victoria and during both World Wars I and II. Today, the daylong event involves a parade of Viking costume-clad men, a galley ship that floats on the Lerwick Harbour (and will eventually burn), blazing torches, numerous theatrical performances and more. Keep in mind that the following Wednesday is declared a public holiday, so that participants and onlookers can "recover" -- most likely from the heavy boozing that also happens at Up Helly Aa Viking Fire Festival. That should give you an idea of how much fun this fest is.

This takes the cake, or rather the pancake, for quirkiest festival. The small town of Olney, just about 60 miles north of London, hosts a short running race every year on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Why, you ask, would you run on Fat Tuesday, when surely eating should be the main event? Well, here's why: According to lore, centuries ago in 1445, a local housewife was so focused on mixing batter and flipping pancakes that she lost track of time. When she realized it was time for the morning service, she raced off to church still wearing her apron and brandishing her frying pan. The town's current residents like to recreate this spectacle by wearing similar attire while they run from the marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul. But unlike other races, these runners have to keep their skillet-carrying arm down. Otherwise, someone is liable to get knocked out. And who said running wasn't a contact sport?

Think of that epic food fight in the cafeteria of your elementary school. If you weren't gifted with such a lunchtime brawl, then perhaps you recall the great scenes from the '90s Peter Pan film, "Hook"? Multiply that by about a trillion, and you'll have La Tomatina. This tomato-throwing festival takes place in Buñol, Spain, near the popular city of Valencia, on the last Wednesday of August. And it's epic. It came about in 1945, when a group of rowdy young men staged a fight in Buñol's main square during a parade. A vegetable stand was in reach, so they started grabbing for produce and hurling it at one another. The police broke up the first fight, as well as four similar fights in subsequent years. But in 1950, Buñol relented and allowed its citizens to behave like schoolchildren and paint the town red with tomato splatter. Today, an estimated 90,000 pounds of tomatoes are dumped in the town's Plaza del Pueblo for use in the one-hour free-for-all. Let the tomato tossing begin!

How does Hawaii and processed meat sound? Delish? If this is your kind of duo, the Waikiki SPAM Jam in late April is the festival for you. You might ask: Why? Why would Hawaii host an event dedicated to the so-called mystery meat? And the simple answer is because Hawaiians love it. According to event officials, the Hawaiian population consumes nearly seven million cans of SPAM a year, which means they eat more SPAM than the residents of any other state in the United States. During the six-hour event, a handful of noted Honolulu chefs dish out the meaty product in all sorts of interesting ways. There are also tents selling SPAM merchandise (t-shirts, slippers and more), and there are even a couple of stages facilitating musical entertainment for the day (hence the "jam" part of the event name). Although SPAM tends to get a bad rep -- some have nicknamed it "Something Posing As Meat" -- if the Hawaiians do it, how bad can it be?

India's Holi Festival has got to be one of the world's most colorful. Held in either late February or early March, this Hindu fete takes place in Indian cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Jaipur. The festival's main event is the opportunity to get splotched with bright "colors" (or powders) in shades of saffron, blue, magenta and more. To the unfamiliar observer it might just look like a powder-throwing holiday, but as reports, it's also "a holiday when enemies set aside differences, when members of different castes interact, when men and women, so often separated in this conservative society, mingle." Different cities add different events, such as dance performances and street food festivals, to Holi. But the best thing is that the whole community comes out to join in the convivial celebration, and they'll earn an Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat for doing so. Happy Holi!

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