Sunday, October 28, 2007

World's Craziest Festivals

1) La Tomatina, Spain

Where it's held: Bunol, near the Spanish city of Valencia
What happens: One hundred tons of over-ripe tomatoes are tossed into the streets, where tens of thousands of revellers quickly reduce them to pulp, leap around and generally enjoy being drenched in reddish, tomato-flavoured mush. Ever wondered what ketchup would be like if it consisted of 60% human sweat? Time to find out…
Why it happens: Nobody's entirely sure, but a food fight of some sort back in the 1940s is thought to have been such fun that it turned into an annual tradition.
Best reason to attend: Nothing unites people like an essentially meaningless large-scale food fight; you'll get to mingle with many folks from dozens of countries and see the humble tomato in a whole new light.

2) Redneck Games, USA

Where it's held: East Dublin, in the US State of Georgia
What happens: Every summer, thousands turn up to watch or take part in such highbrow events as hubcap throwing, bobbing for pig's feet, seed spitting and the big hair contest. Gurning and belly-flopping into pits of mud are also on the agenda, and a fun time is had by all. Appropriately enough, trophies for the victors are in the shape of a crushed beer can.
Why it happens: Back in 1996, someone opined that the Atlanta olympics were being staged by a bunch of rednecks; a local DJ picked up on the idea and decided to hold games that really were staged by a bunch of rednecks. The rest is history.
Best reason to attend: All profits go to local charities and you'll get to experience that famed Southern hospitality: organisers proclaim that "everyone and their butt crack is welcome".

3) Ivana Kupala, Russia / Ukraine

Where it's held Russia and the Ukraine
What happens: This one's all about celebrating the water and fire elements and adoring the great outdoors. On the summer solstice, youths don wreaths, set bonfires alight and leap over them, individually or hand-in-hand with a loved one. Symbolic dolls are dressed up and burned or "drowned", and there's plenty of singing and dancing.
Why it happens: The day's events have their basis in an ancient Pagan fertility ceremony. Tradition holds that there are lots of opportunities for prophesy on Ivana Kupala night; girls can learn their fortunes from the way their wreaths float away on a river, and wealth is assured for anyone who finds a fern flower during the revelry.
Best reason to attend: What could be more lovely than enjoying the countryside on a warm summer's evening? Just make sure to jump high enough that your clothes don't catch fire.

4) Naked Festival, Japan

Where it's held: Inazawa City, Japan
What happens: Thousands of young men, with nothing but a loincloth protecting their nether regions from the biting Japanese winter, throng a symbolic naked man who is paraded through the streets on a journey towards a particular shrine. The fellow in question, the "Shin-Otoko", must be completely shaved of hair and can expect to be bruised, battered and generally manhandled as the followers try to grab hold of any bit of him they can reach.
Why it happens: Tradition holds that the Naked Man absorbs the bad luck and past indiscretions of those who touch him; for hundreds of years, followers have strived to transfer their evil spirits to him and harry him out of town.
Best reason to attend: Japan is a place that's nearly always polite, civilised and ordered; here's a chance to see a bit of its slightly creepy side in action.

5) Burning Man, USA

Where it's held: Black Rock Desert, in the US State of Nevada
What happens: Earthy New Age types swarm upon an unworldly desert to dress up in outlandish costumes, share artworks, listen to music and burn a 40-foot tall effigy of a man. This "experimental community" of up to 50,000 people is all about self-expression, leaving all creature comforts back home and "learning self-reliance".
Why it happens: Back in 1986, a group of friends hanging out on a California beach set fire to an 8-foot effigy of a man, as you do, and were impressed by the number of onlookers who came to gawp. They felt it was all a bit spiritual and decided they should do the same thing again the next year. The tradition was born, later merging with a Nevada-based festival to become the juggernaut that Burning Man is now.
Best reason to attend: Local authorities in many parts of the world would frown upon slathering green body paint all over one's person and driving around naked in home-made pedal cars; here, you can do that and still be the most conservative person at the party.

6) Onbashira, Japan

Where it's held: Nagano, Japan
What happens: Onbashira is a game of two halves. The first bit of the festival involvs a ceremonial dragging of huge logs down from mountain slopes towards four Shinto shrines. Brave youths show off by standing on the logs as they slide downhill. Stage two of the event involves the logs being raised into position to support the shrine buildings.
Why it happens: This six-yearly ceremony has supposedly been going on for more than a millenium and serves to give the central shrine a symbolic renewal.
Best reason to attend: Log-surfing is a bit of a niche activity which you won't see in many other places.

7) Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

Where it's held: Phuket, Thailand
What happens: During the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar, Phuket locals of Chinese descent observe a meat-free diet for ten days as a sort of spiritual detox program. Rituals and processions are staged across town, with some participants piercing bodily bits in all manner of painful ways to express their devotion.
Best reason to attend: To watch a truly incredible spectacle, and to be glad that someone else rather than yourself is pulling a wagon with wires strung through their face.

8) Roswell UFO Festival, USA

Where it's held: Roswell, in the US State of New Mexico
What happens:UFO enthusiasts get together to attend parties, speeches, book signings, parades and all manner of other social events. Often, while dressed as aliens.
Why it happens: Believers love Roswell because legend has it that an alien spacecraft crashed in the desert just outside of this usually-sleepy town in 1947. Extra-terrestrial beings, some still alive, were supposedly found at the crash site and their wrecked flying saucer squirrelled away for secret analysis. The US government insists the spaceship was a mere weather balloon. Spoilsports.
Best reason to attend: Because the truth is out there.

9) Danjiri Matsuri, Japan

Where it's held: Various places in Japan, but the most famous event is in Kishiwada, Osaka
What happens: Groups of locals haul ornate wooden carts through the town streets at alarming speed, making lots of noise as they go. A carpenter surfs atop each cart and tries not to fall into the heaving crowds of bystanders.
Why it happens: It's said to have derived from harvest festivals several hundred years ago. The Danjiri is also an opportunity for folks from various neighbourhood groupings to big themselves up, by making their cart the most impressive with ornate carvings and paintings.
Best reason to attend: No visit to Japan would be complete without seeing at least one eccentric festival or parade, and this is the perfect opportunity.

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