If someone asked you to drape yourself completely in grease and oil paints, and get into physical combat (friendly of course!) with thousand other folks, you’d probably recommend them to see a psychiatrist. But, what if you get to know that there is a huge festival celebrated in Spain, which involves the exact same theme as described here? Surprised!!?
Well, this is just one of the many astoundingly unique festivals, which takes place around the globe in different countries.
These festivals have been a part of their regional culture from centuries and still hold the same significance in the community. As an ardent traveler, you must add them to your bucket list and visit some of these (if not all) at least once in your lifetime.
Here’s a list of 12 unique (and weird) festivals which you must know about:
1. Days of the Dead – Mexico
“La Bienvenida a Los Muertos”, which means “Welcome, the Dead”; and that is exactly what the theme of this Mexican annual festival is! A 2 days’ of gothic and ghostly celebration begins every year on the 31st of October. People celebrate this day to welcome the departed souls of their friends and family members. Apart from building private altars, people visit the graves of the deceased with their favorite food and beverages, possessions and several other gifts. As the last week of October approaches, the entire region becomes exuberant, the markets get burgeoned with gifts and accessories used as a part of the celebration, bakeries begin offering delicious Pan de Muerto, a “Day of the Dead bread”, made with flour, butter, sugar, eggs, orange peel, anise, and yeast. In 2008 the tradition was inscribed in the “Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO. And you thought that Halloween was scary!!!
2. Cascamorras, Baza – Spain
A platoon of people from Guadix covered with stain, grease, and oil paints march fiercely towards the township of Baza, where an entire troop of people, with their face dirtied with mud, wait ferociously with an armor of colored water and eggs, to thwart the movement of the intruders. Well, if that sounded like a brutal war like situation, let me tell you that this is actually one of the biggest, oldest and most interesting festivals celebrated in Spain.
As the myth goes, Cascamorras, a worker from Guadix, found a buried sacred image of the Virgen de la Piedad also known as Our Lady of Mercy, while he was working on the land of Baza. Encouraged by his Guadixan countrymen, he made up his mind and attempted to carry the sacred image to Guadix, but Bazans, who thought it to be their own, snatched it before he arrived, and punished for what they considered to be a sacred theft.
Eventually, Cascamorras had to return to Guadix empty-handed, and his countrymen, who were actually expecting to see the image of the Virgin, were deeply disappointed, and they viciously pursued those they considered responsible for their frustration. Finally, the hero and the people reconciled, after which they prayed to the Virgin who was in the other town. Since then, recalling those events that unite and oppose them, Baza and Guadix celebrate the Fiesta de Cascamorras for three days – from the 6th of August, every year!
3. Up Helly Aa Fire Festival, Lerwick – Scotland
“Get your heads ready for Piking, ‘cause here come the Vikings!” and many more such war cries can be heard on the streets of Lerwick, Scotland. The “Up Helly Aa Fire Festival” is an annual affair, celebrated on the last Tuesday of January, which witnesses large groups of people, in sheepskins, carrying shields and axes, and flaming torches. The festival is the largest of its kind in the entire Europe, which is a part of the cultural wagon of the Scottish, from centuries back. It is understood that it was the Vikings who ruled this land 1000 of years ago, for almost 500 years, and this jubilant parade is a token of respect paid to the great warriors from the years of yore. If Europe is your next destination, and Scotland is a part of the trip, make sure you do not miss this! And if it’s not, well….. better take a detour!
4. Wanderlust Yoga Festival, Oahu – Hawaii
While the long-lasting benefit of regular Yoga practice is a worldwide phenomenon, taking it to the shores of beautiful beaches of Hawaii and mixing it up with the great taste of wine, music and local food just elevate the experience to another level altogether. The annual congregation of Yoga gurus and practitioners, for 5 days of spiritual and meditational learning (happens at the end of February usually), embodies the refined and scintillating Yoga festival of Wanderlust in Oahu.
5. Tshechu – Bhutan
Bhutan is perhaps more popular being ‘The Happiest Country in World’, but very few people would know about the national festival – Tshechu! One of the most unique and colorful festivals that I’ve ever witnessed in my life, ‘Tshechu’ is more like a gathering of the local Buddhists in the Dzongs, where costumed and masked dancers perform the Cham Dance. Their performance usually has a story to narrate, which mostly revolves around the lives of Padmasambhava and other Busshiast saints. This festival is held in each district or dzongkhag of Bhutan, on the tenth day of a month of the lunar Tibetan calendar (which mostly happens during the month of October). The gorgeous costumes of the folk dancers and their movements along with the drum beats will surely be a treat to the eyes.
6. International Sand Sculpture Festival – Portugal
Considered to be the largest sand sculpture festival in the world, Fiesa International Festival of Sand Sculpture is one of the most popular attractions in the Algarve. The festival witnesses some fantastic and artistic use of around 35000 tons of sand, spread across 4 acres (approx) of land, carved into figures of famous personalities, drawn by a group of some 60 artists from all across the globe. Celebrated annually, this year it will be held from June 8 to November 10, 2019, the festival portrays sculptures with different themes every year, such as theme dedicated to Music, Dreamland, The Lost Worlds, Mythologies, World Wonders and similar.
7. Pushkar Camel Fair – India
With thousands of camels decorated to their uber best, standing tall and sharp in the middle of the Thar Desert of Rajasthan and nearly a million people, the “Pushkar ka Mela” (as it is fondly known as) is one of world’s largest camel trading festivals. Held every year in the months of October – November in the vibrant city of Pushkar, this festival can be your best chance to witness the traditional extravaganza and heritage of this royal state. The fair showcases some really interesting activities and competitions, including ‘Longest Moustache’ of a Camel Owner, artwork on the camel’s body, camel racing and much more. The festival goes on for nearly five days, marking its end on the full moon day. And it’s just not that, but you’ll get to savor some authentic Rajasthani delicacies as well as watch the folk dance and other shows.
8. Koh Phangan Full Moon Party – Thailand
If Tomorrowland or Sunburn is flashing on your head, trust me, this is a way more enthralling party event. It was a bunch of tourists who initiated this carnival almost 30 years back, while they were at the Haad Rin beach when they saw a full, pale yellow colored moon and found it to be the most beautiful moon ever! The Full Moon Party at Koh Phangan should be witnessed at least for once! A small celebration that started on that night with a handful of people has turned into a monthly carnival with 20-30 thousand party freaks dancing and celebrating all night long. A short half an hour ferry ride from Koh Samui will take you to this exotic location. This is easily the best way to celebrate with the locals, by being a part of their ‘culture’ as well as meet people from different parts of the globe!
9. Cooper Hill’s Cheese Rolling Festival, Gloucester – England
Broken bones, bruised organs, dislocated shoulders, concussions, ripped clothing and scratches; sounds pretty terrifying, doesn’t it? Ahh well! All this is just to get your hands on a heavy piece of cheese, rolling downhill, and rise victorious! This annual race event, which started as a local tradition for the people of Brockworth village in Gloucester, England, has attained worldwide fame in recent years. People from all over the world gather at the Cooper’s Hill, every year in the month of May, to indulge in this crazy and mind-wrecking fun event.
10. Entroida – Spain
While a majority of festivals celebrated around the world, involves dancing, food, wine, and lots of fun, Galicia, in Spain, has its own style of celebrating one of its biggest carnivals every year. The festival of Entroida is one of the craziest, yet exciting carnivals, you would ever witness! People throwing muddy rags at each other and making a mess is one thing, and it all seems a lot of fun until you realize that the rags are no more just full of mud, but significant number of fire ants in it, which a bunch of mischievous lads has put in, and the rags are landing all on your face. Though, as painful and scary as it sounds, people of Galicia celebrate the event with much fervor and jubilance, every year. For those wanderlustful souls who are keen to spend their gap year in Spain (or thinking of staying there for a considerable period of time) can make some local friends and enjoy it even more!
11. Inti Raymi (Festival of the Sun), Cusco – Peru
Symbolizing one of the greatest and oldest festivals from the Inca Empire, Inti Raymi marks the beginning of the New Year for the Peruvians. Large groups of people, colorfully dressed, dancing jubilantly on the beats of local acoustics, is a general view that you will get to see if you’re attending this festival. For many years, since its inception, the festival, which takes place every year on the 24th of June, use to witness sacrifice rituals that have been banished now, but the rest of show with music, dance, prayers, and other heritage ceremonies keeps continuing.
12. La Tomatina – Spain
Out of all the listed ones, probably this is the most popular festival. Celebrated wildly in the Valencian town of Buñol, it’s nothing but a battle of tomatoes! The town is painted red, as people throw the tomatoes at each other, after which the town square is covered with tomato debris! The cleaning process involves the use of fire trucks to spray down the streets, and people also bathe there, to get rid of the pulpy facade. Thanks to the Bollywood tale of ‘Zindegi Na Milegi Dobara’ – La Tomatina has now become a known festival and even Indians are gearing up to take part in it.
In case you are planning a trip to any of these countries this year, make sure you schedule your travel plans in line with these festivals, and be a part of something exclusive! For those who have already witnessed any of these – leave a comment below to share your experience. I would love to hear out and I’m sure everyone out there, reading this article, would also be keen to know about the fun you’ve had!