Festivals appear to be in our very nature. Regardless of where we live, humans seems to have an affinity to celebrate everything from normal everyday occurrences to the ridiculous. In fact, if you want to understand a country’s culture better, try attending one of its festivals.
Music, art, food and wine harvests are commonly the focus for many mundane festivities; however, some challenge the height of absurdity, making them all the more appealing and utterly enjoyable.
For instance, who would have thought the lowly worm to be worthy of celebration? Apparently, it is in Devon, England, where the Blackawton International Festival of Wormcharming brings competitors out to lure as many worms as possible to the surface in 15 minutes any way they can. There’s only one rule: they can’t dig them out or cheaters will be put in stocks and publicly humiliated. Similar annual events take place in Sopchoppy, Florida, and in Shelburne, Ontario.
Meanwhile, in Rayne, Louisiana, the self-proclaimed Frog Capital of the World, the Rayne Frog Festival held in November features frog races, frog jumping, the crowning of the Frog Derby Queen and plenty of Cajun-style frogs’ legs to eat.
While the tradition of the groom carrying his bride over the threshold is observed in many countries, the Finns in Sonkajärvi have taken this custom to new lengths, making it a yearly event. Husbands must cary their wives through a 253.5-metre obstacle course. Prizes are awarded to the quickest, the strongest, the most entertaining and the best-costumed couples. Such competitions have caught on in the USA, Hong Kong, India and other countries.
As youngsters, we have a natural affinity to mud. There’s something deliciously organic about it and, today, many spas offer mud wraps among their treatments. In Korea, they go so far as to honour it with an annual event called the Boryeong Mud Festival during which participants get down and dirty in the mineral-laden mud at the idyllic Daecheon beach.
While food festivals usually fall into the more normal category, in Buñol, Spain, over-ripe tomatoes are made for throwing. Every August, about 35,000 revellers gather at La Tomatina to paint the town red by throwing 130 kilograms of the red fruit at each other. If you plan to partake in this messy festival, be sure to crush the tomato before you pitch it. That’s the rule.
In many countries, attracting Lady Luck is often at the core of a ritual. For example, on a cold winter day in February in Konomiya, Japan, as many as 10,000 men strip down to nothing but a loincloth and run all over town to find one completely naked man among them. Apparently, if they find him fast enough, they believe it brings 12 months of good luck. This 1,300-year-old Shinto test of manhood is repeated all over Japan.
On the other side of the spectrum, driving evil spirits away may be the goal behind a tradition. The Cheung Chau’s Bun Festival in Hong Kong is one such event. Every May, the seafaring residents of Cheung Chau disguise themselves as deities and shimmy up three 18-metre towers covered with plastic sweet buns, grabbing as many as they can. The more they gather, the better their luck will be for the year ahead. Although the ritual was abandoned after a tower collapsed in 1978, the 18th-century event has since been resurrected using stronger towers, proving it’s almost impossible to let go of tradition.
Apparently, not all celebrations involve throngs of noisy people. If you find yourself in Bali on Nyepi Day (Silent Night), a Hindu holiday, you’ll be warned to stay inside your hotel out of respect for Bali’s Lunar New Year. Balinese ring in their New Year in total silence at home, contemplating what they want out of life without the distraction of lights, TV, radios, sex, food or talking. Shhh!