Each year thousands gather to take part in some of the most bizarre festivals on the planet. Some have ancient origins, others are more modern. Although they are all unique, what they have in common is their weirdness. Read on for five of the most bizarre festivals from around the world.
1. Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa is an annual festival held in Lerwick, Shetland, usually on the last Tuesday of January. Its origins can be traced back to the 1880s. In essence it involves large gatherings of men dressed in full Viking regalia brandishing lit torches (over a thousand are burned each year) and rampaging through the streets of Lerwick.
2. Hadaka Matsuri
Hadaka Matsuri at the Saidaiji Temple in Okayama is celebrated several times throughout the year in different parts of Japan. In this festival, participants (there are separate women’s and men’s festivals) are virtually naked, wearing only a loin cloth. In this boisterous, competitive festival, around 9,000 men scrabble for a pair of ‘lucky sticks’, which are considered sacred, thrown their way by priests. Whoever gets hold of these sticks (called shingi) and manages to throw them into a rice-filled “masu” or wooden box will receive a year of joy. The festival’s origins date back 500 years.
3. La Tomatina
This Spanish festival, now a major tourist attraction, takes place on the last Wednesday of August in the Valencia region. It’s essentially a food fight in which people pelt each other with tomatoes leaving streets awash with red pulp. The event is, bizarrely, to honour the Virgin Mary and St Louis Betrand. The festival begins in earnest with a person trying to climb a greasy pole to capture a slab of cooked ham. Once the ham is secured, water cannons are aimed at participants and more than 100 tonnes of tomatoes are poured into the streets to be used as throwing ammunition (the rules state that the tomatoes have to be squashed first to avoid injuries). La Tomatina has been going strong since the 1940s; you’d be forgiven for thinking that this represents a colossal waste of tomatoes.
4. Kanamara Matsuri
Although the Japanese are typically a reserved people, at the Kanamara Matsuri festival, held every year in the spring, they show us a less private side of their nature: in fact, Kanamara Matusuri (Festival of the Iron Phallus) could also be known as the ‘Privates on Parade’ festival. But there is a serious side to the festival - it celebrates and serves as a prayer for fertility, marriages and healthy births, as well as being a means of promoting awareness about a range of specific diseases. There are lots of penis shaped paraphernalia for sale at the festival: visitors can purchase penis sweets, vegetables and gifts such as penis-shaped hats, for example. The festival is popular with people of all ages; the sight of grandmas sucking on penis-shaped lollipops is not unusual.
5. Wife-Carrying Festival, Finland
Held in Sonkajärvi every year, the wife carrying festival has developed into an annual world-recognised competition that is open to all nations. According to one theory, the festival’s origins can be traced to a 19th century legend of a notorious robber who is said to have tested aspiring members of his gang by requiring them to carry sacks of either grain, or live animals over a course similar to that used in the Finnish festival. In another theory, the festival’s roots lie in a century-old practice of wife-stealing (today the women are willing participants).
In the festival, men must carry a wife (it doesn’t have to be theirs) around a gruelling obstacle course (253.5 metres long) in the fastest time possible. The wife must be at least 17 years-old and weigh more than 49 kilograms, the rules stipulate.
Have you attended any of these festivals? If so, what did you make of them? Share any comments in the comment box below.