All that Bizarre Festivals

Haidar Saif

As we go down the history of human civilization, we find that the process of cultural enlightenment has always been indebted to a varied number of festivals. All festivals have their root deep in the cultural practices of the people where it flourishes. And almost all festivals have their regional characteristics which might look quite odd in other atmosphere. As our globe is not a tiny one, there are a lot of such bizarre festivals scattered around which we may like to get introduced with. Here are just a few of those bizarre festivals for the readers of Youth Wave.

La Tomatina

The Spanish LOVE to eat tomatoes and according to Fruittoday Euromagazine, they eat 17 kilos per person annually! As with all Mediterranean cuisines, the tomato is an essential ingredient of Spanish cooking. The Spanish eat tomatoes every day and prepare them in a variety of ways, including fresh, crushed, stewed or simmered in a sauce. Tomato sauce is served on the side with fried eggs, chicken, meat and omelets at most Spanish dinner tables.
Since one of the principal tomato-growing regions of Spain is the southeast, including Murcia and Valencia, it seems appropriate that the famous tomato fight takes place in Buñol, just west of the capital city of Valencia.
It’s not too hard to understand that La Tomatina festival started by accident. According to all accounts, there was a parade and festival in Buñol on the last Wednesday of August of 1945 when a fight broke out between some young men. Taking advantage of a nearby fruit and vegetable vendor’s stall, they threw tomatoes at each other. The police broke up the altercation and those responsible ended up paying restitution to the tomato vendor.
According to La Tomatina’s official web site, there are five simple rules that must be followed. They seem to be common sense to ensure the safety of participants, or as stated on the web page “are simple rules of civic responsibility and cohabitation.” Below are the official rules almost verbatim:
You must not bring bottles or other type of objects which could cause an accident.
You must not tear or throw t-shirts.
The tomatoes must be squashed before throwing them, to avoid hurting people.
You must be careful of any lorry (truck or van).
When you hear the second shot, you must stop throwing tomatoes.

Cheese Rolling Festival

Spain may have the running of the bulls in Pamplona, but in England the daredevil event of the year is the annual wacky race, the Cheese-Rolling on Cooper’s Hill in Gloucestershire.
Once a year, as they have done for hundreds of years, young men and women hurl themselves down a hill so steep that it is impossible to remain standing, in pursuit of a seven or eight pound wheel of locally made Double Gloucester cheese.
No one knows exactly when the tradition of people throwing themselves down Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, south east of Gloucester, began but it was already a well-established Whitsun event in the early 1800s. It’s now a regular feature of the Spring Bank Holiday.
There’s a men’s and a women’s downhill race and uphill races for children. Thousands come to watch and able-bodied cheese-rolling racers come from all over the world.
In this wacky race, there is no way participants can come down Cooper’s Hill on their feet. The hill averages a 1 to 3 slope but in places it is 1 to 2 and even 1 to 1. Spectators who get too close to the edge have been known to tumble over and join the race involuntarily. And the guest roller, who sits on the edge of the hill to send the cheese rolling, has to be helped into place by a master of ceremonies.
Most people slide but racers have been known to do cartwheels and bounce through the air. The chaos is captured on several BBC Gloucestershire videos. Pursuit of the cheese regularly results in scrapes, abrasions, cuts, bruises and the occasional broken bone. To minimize injuries, volunteers spend two weekends clearing the hill of scrub and stinging nettles. Safety fences are erected along the sides of the hill to prevent the tumbling participants from crashing into trees.

Bonfires of Saint John

What would you think if you were walking down a street toward the beach in Alicante during June in the middle of night and you noticed that people on the beach were jumping over bonfires and then diving into the sea. Some people might say that the asylum had open its doors but you would be wrong for it is the fiesta of St John’s Bonfires or locally known as Las Hogueras de San Juan. This fiesta is a celebration for the summer solstice which is 21st June but locally is celebrated on 23rd June coinciding with St John’s day which is when most of Europe celebrates the day.
During the year prior to this people build immense papier maché statues called hogueras or fogueres, which means bonfires. These statues are usually caricatures of politicians or celebrities, or satirical illustrations of newsworthy events and are left in full view on the side of the streets from June 20 onwards. It is on the 24th of June that these papier mache statues are set alight at midnight and burned to the ground.
The best place to view the end of the fiesta is the famous Santa Barbara castle. Near to it in the Benacantil district is where a huge firework display is set off. People say that it is so big that you can see the display along most of the Costa Blanca. After this they set the statues alight one by one signifying the end of winter.
The festival has been granted the status of a Festival of International Tourist Interest and as a result it attracts holidaymaker’s from all over the world. Along with the festival the celebration has its own fiesta queen, known as the Bellea del Foc (beauty of the fire). The selection of this person is a huge responsibility and carries a lot of prestige with it.
The history of this festival was to originally celebrate the longest day which allowed more time to work and shorter nights. This was back in the time of witch craft, so shorter nights meant less time for evil curses to attack you. There was such a great mess made that the council outlawed letting off fireworks or the setting of bonfires in the streets on pain of a rather large fine. It was in 1881 that the council forgot to re-instate the order and the village people took advantage. This is when it all began. They built the satirical statues, held dances, open air concerts and fireworks displays. The San Juan fiesta was not officially recognised until 1928 when the ban was lifted and the fun could be had by all legally.

Goat Tossing Festival

Saints are highly revered and celebrated throughout Spain in special days of “fiesta” – Saints Days. Some saints are celebrated nationally in Spain and others are legends and celebrated only in particular villages. In the city of Zamora, Saint Vincent has been honoured with his very own festival and Saint´s Day at which a very peculiar (and controversial) custom kicks off the annual fiesta.
The tiny Spanish village of Manganeses de la Polvorosa holds its annual festival for their towns patron Saint Vincent every June. The festivity begins with a group of excited young men tossing a live goat off the top of a 50-foot church belfry to the crowd below who catch the flying goat with a canvas sheet.
The goat is then paraded through the streets on the shoulders of partygoers and thus begins the annual San Vicente de Martir festival! Hundreds of people, many in traditional dress, descend upon this sleepy village to witness this unusual spectacle.
As to when and how this began, no one can actually confirm. Although, each villager is absolutely sure that their rendition of the story behind this tradition is true and undisputable. There are quite a few legends and stories as to how this curious custom originated. One version claims that this custom began in the 18th century (others say hundreds of years ago and others as little as 20 years ago) when a priest donated his goats milk to a needy family and shortly after the goat fell from the church bell tower but was miraculously saved by the poor villagers who caught the goat in a blanket.
A different local legend says the festival was born when a wily goat snuck up the steps of the 18th century church to eat food the village priest had left for doves. When the priest discovered the goat, it became frightened and it leapt from the belfry. Surviving the great fall and landing on its hooves, the goat quickly recovered and disappeared into the woods leaving a very shocked Saint Vincent watching from above.
However, as each year the (not so lucky) chosen goat is hurled from the bell tower into the tarpaulins below, some survive the fall and some do not. Not much attention is given to the death of this animal, it is set aside and the fiesta begins regardless. If the goat survives it is revered and is paraded through the small village, becoming a local legend for years to come.

El Colacho

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, but those Spanish sure know how to rock a weird festival. From pelting each other with tomatoes to letting angry bulls loose in the streets, the country tends to top most charts when it comes to celebrations that border on the bizarre, but surely El Colacho takes the title for downright oddness.
Otherwise known as The Baby Jumping Festival, it does exactly what it says on the tin with costumed characters dressed as the devil leaping over a gaggle of babies lying on a mattress, all in the name of religion.
Taking place in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia every June, it is a tradition dating back nearly 400 years to mark Corpus Christi, a Catholic feast celebrating the body and blood of Jesus. Needless to say, this particular manner of celebrating attracts far more attention beyond its religious origins, with crowds flocking to swell the population of this small village in the north-west corner of the country to enjoy four days of celebrations with the bizarre infant-leaping display marking the culmination of the festivities.
The practice represents the cleansing of the babies’ souls and wards off eveil spirits, with men dressed as Colacho – a character who represents the devil – taking a running leap over the row of babies laying blissfully unaware on a mattress in the street. The whip and baton he clutches under his arms make the image even more sinister, although the bright yellow suit is admittedly not the most frightening.
The babies, all born locally within the preceding 12 months, are then blessed and sprinkled with petals which, presumably, is slightly less intimidating that the idea of grown men in fancy dress taking a running jump over the top of them. Luckily, no babies are believed to have been harmed during the making of this festival, although surely it is only one red wine too many or a badly tied shoelace away from disaster.

Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme

The Festival of near death experiences, as its name suggests, is a celebration for those people who have had a near death experience and lived to tell the tale. Saint Marta de Ribarteme is the patron Saint of resurrection.
The lucky ‘survivors’ attend the festival in a coffin.
It is a good place to go if you want to catch up on tales of different near death experiences.
Even though centered around a fairly morbid theme, the festival itself is a celebration with firework displays and the usually partying that carries on well into the following day.
Thousands of people line the streets of this tiny village. At 10am, the relatives of the people who narrowed escaped death are expected to carry their loved ones in coffins to the small church where there is a shrine to the Virgin Santa Marta.
After Mass, which is projected across the village using loudspeakers, the procession then walks to the local cemetery and then back to the church with a large statue of the Virgin Santa Marta overseeing the celebrations.

Goose Clubbing Festival

Until recently, an annual festival was held in Germany in which a goose was tied by its feet to a post and then clubbed by the local men until its head came off. As a result of complaints from animal rights activists, the festival-goers now hit a goose which has previously been killed. A very similar event occurs in Spain (surprise surprise) every year in which a man hangs from the goose until the head comes off. Again the goose is killed prior to the event which dates back 350 years. The Spanish festival is called Antzar Eguna.


Thaipusam is an important festival observed by the Hindus of southern India during the Tamil month of Thai (January – February). Outside of India, it is celebrated mainly by the Tamil speaking community settled in Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Sri Lanka and elsewhere around the world.
Thaipusam is dedicated to the Hindu god Murugan, the son of Shiva and Parvati. Murugan is also known as Kartikeya, Subramaniam, Sanmukha, Shadanana, Skanda and Guha. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati presented a lance to Lord Murgan to vanquish the demon army of Tarakasura and combat their evil deeds. Therefore, Thaipusam is a celebration of the victory of good over evil.
On the Thaipusam day, most devotees of Lord Murugan offer him fruits and flowers of yellow or orange color – his favorite colors and also adorn dresses of the same color. Many devotees bear milk, water, fruits and floral tributes on pails hung from a yoke and carry them on their shoulders to various Murugan temples, far and near. This wooden or bamboo structure called ‘Kavadi’ is covered with cloth and decorated with feathers of peacock – the vehicle of Lord Murugan.
Many fanatical devotees go to such extent as to torture their bodies to appease the Lord. So, a major feature of Thaipusam celebrations is body piercing with hooks, skewers and small lances called ‘vel’. Many of these devotees even pull chariots and heavy objects with hooks attached to their bodies. Many others pierce their tongue and cheek to impede speech and thereby attain full concentration on the Lord. Most devotees enter into a trance during such piercing due to the incessant drumming and chanting of “vel vel shakti vel.”

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