Humankind has never needed much of a reason for a party, and festivals both ancient and modern dot the world’s calendar throughout the year. Many strange festivals trace their roots to fertility rites and traditions marking the change of seasons. As Canadians can attest, the end of winter and arrival of spring has been an occasion worth celebrating for millennia, and with cabin fever such as it is, it’s a time of year that seems particularly abundant with weird festivals and quirky traditions. Here are but a few of the bizarre and crazy festivals you can experience in your travels:
Frozen Dead Guy Days – Nederland, Colorado
What would you do if you found yourself in possession of a cryogenically frozen corpse? The town of Nederland, Colorado faced that precise quandary years ago. Naturally they organized a festival around it. In a nutshell, Bredo Morstoel’s cryogenically preserved body was stranded after his family moved back to Norway but Bredo couldn’t go because of regulations prohibiting the transportation of remains. In life Bredo was a big fan of cryogenics so people were loath to let him thaw, and his plight became a cause celebre. Luckily an arrangement was worked out to keep the Frozen Dead Guy on ice for perpetuity.
Seeing a perfectly valid excuse for a good party and a way to shake off the winter blahs, Frozen Dead Guy Days was born. Festivities, which draw up to 20,000 visitors, include frozen salmon throwing, coffin races, a hearse parade, polar plunge, and tours of the frigid resting place of the deceased dude himself. Not surprisingly, a great deal of beer is consumed as well. ┃Find flights to Denver
Monkey Buffet Festival – Lopburi, Thailand
Lots of places honour their founding fathers, but Lopburi, in Thailand, does so in a unique way. Since legend has it that the town was founded when Rama awarded fiefdom of the area to Hanuman the Monkey King, every year they put on a bountiful buffet for approximately 600 monkeys, who emerge from the wilderness in droves to binge on the towers of fruit and other goodies laid out for them on the last day of November.┃Find flights to Thailand
Woolly Worm Festival – Banner Elk, North Carolina
While the groundhog may be the most famous of weather prognosticators, in North Carolina they enlist the help of a different sort of creature to make their forecasts. Punxsutawney Phil and his brethren cast their shadows to gauge the arrival of spring, but woolly worms, which are the caterpillars of the Isabella Tiger Moth, are consulted in fall to predict whether the upcoming winter will be mild or harsh.
Not content to consult just any old woolly worm, in 1973 Banner Elk started the Woolly Worm Festival with the premise of determining the fittest one around. Since then the annual family-friendly festival has featured crafts, rides, and games, but the, er, banner event is the Worm Races.┃Find flights to Charlotte
Night of the Radishes – Oaxaca City, Mexico
Noche de Rabanos gets points for specificity. Started over a century ago to generate some buzz about the local farmers’ market, the Night of the Radishes is strictly about the radish. No other veggies or fruits need apply. But these aren’t the rinky-dink radishes you’re used to seeing at the grocery store. Mexico’s traditional radishes, which are bountiful in December, can grow as big as 3kg, giving artisans plenty to work with as they carve elaborate sculptures and showpieces from tons of the piquant vegetable. These works of art are displayed every year on December 23rd in Oaxaca City’s main square, and the winning creation scores a 13,000 peso prize.┃Find flights to Mexico
Calcio Storico Fiorentino – Florence, Italy
A bizarre but splendid combination of manly men, colorful historic costumes, cannon fire, and a ferocious brand of football make Calcio Storico an event worth remembering. Held in the Piazza Santa Croce in June, it is a tournament of a violent form of soccer or rugby from the 16th Century that is played in sand, with players sporting medieval costumes. Nearly all types of physical contact are permitted, including punching, tackling, and headbutting opponents. Four teams, representing different districts of Florence are paired off, with the winners of the two preliminary matches facing off in the final which always takes place on June 24th in honour of St. John the Baptist. Each match is preceded by a colourful procession through the city’s streets.┃Find flights to Florence
Kanamara Matsuri – Kawasaki, Japan
A members-only event of a different kind, Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus) is the Shinto festival associated with the Kanamara shrine in Kawasaki. Its origins are rooted in local folklore about an innkeeper’s daughter and her ingenious rescue from demonic possession, but nowadays its parade, concerts, and other festivities focus on promoting safe sex and raising funds for HIV/AIDS.┃Find flights to Japan
Testicle Festival – Missoula, Montana
Spring is calving season and that leads to an overabundance of Rocky Mountain Oysters on the menu. Missoula, Montana’s answer to this surplus is the annual Testicle Festival, which celebrates this delicacy in ribald style, with all-you-can-drink beer included in the price of admission so that you can have all the liquid courage you need. Also on deck are country music performances, a chest hair competition, and wet t-shirt contest.┃Find flights to Missoula
Cow’s Ball – Bohinj, Slovenia
Bet you thought we were continuing on an anatomical theme from the previous two festivals, but Slovenia’s Cow’s Ball (Kravji Bal) is thoroughly wholesome, like the cheese the area is famous for. When the time comes to bring the cattle back from the high alpine pastures in September they are decked out with flowers and bells to make it a festive occasion as crowds, with many dressed in traditional Slovenian costume, gather to watch them make their way down from the mountains. Then everyone celebrates with traditional music, dancing, food and drink.┃Find flights to Slovenia
Rabechilbi – Richterswil, Switzerland
If you’re one of those people who love to carve jack-o-lanterns at Halloween, or go nuts decorating for Christmas, then you’ll really get into the spirit of the Swiss tradition of Rabechilbi. Forget pumpkins! Turnips are de rigueur for this festival, where they are elaborately carved into lanterns, which are often then assembled into larger illuminated sculptures and joyously paraded through town.┃Find flights to Zurich
Toad Suck Daze – Conway, Arkansas
Toads don’t suck, they rule. At least that’s how the people of Conway, Arkansas feel about it. The name refers to nearby Toad Suck Lock, which got its name from steamboat captains’ habit of biding their time by sucking on the bottle at the tavern until they swelled up like toads.
The festival, which occurs in the first weekend of May, fills the streets of downtown Conway with a carnival atmosphere. In addition to the midway rides, fried twinkies, cheeseburger on a stick, and other delights, there’s a remote control NASCAR speedway, golf tournament, and 5K and 10K runs. If this doesn’t sound wacky, just you wait. Toad Races are held in the Toad Dome and visitors of all ages are encouraged to participate. You can BYOT or borrow a toad from the Toad Suck Daze menagerie, but whatever you do, DO NOT bring a bullfrog! Even zanier is the Stuck on a Truck endurance contest, where competitors stand touching a pick-up truck for days vying to best their rivals. The last one standing keeps the truck.┃Find flights to Arkansas
Maslenitsa – Moscow, Russia
In the same spirit as Mardi Gras, Russia’s traditional Maslenitsa celebrations lead up to the beginning of Lent. Each day preceding Lent has a different theme and specific traditions, such as Welcoming, Playing, Regaling, Revelry, Mother-in-Law’s Eve, Sister-in-Law’s Gathering, and Forgiveness Day. The holiday fell out of fashion during the communist era, but is making a comeback, especially in Moscow.
Pancakes are eaten at almost every occasion during Maslenitsa, served with toppings such as caviar, jam, mushrooms, or sour cream. On Tuesday there are sleigh rides and men can kiss any woman who passes by on the street. By Thursday, the day for revelry, people are no longer allowed to work and among the raucous energy there is a fist-fighting free-for-all in the square. Maslenitsa concludes with bonfires and the burning of a human effigy, whose ashes are spread on the fields to ensure fertility in the upcoming growing season.┃Find flights to Moscow