13 More of the World's Most Bizarre Festivals

Article by: Lauren Jahoda|@jahodarose

Sun March 01, 2015 | 00:00 AM

If you thought our Top 11 Weirdest Festivals list said it all, think again. Today we bring you 13 More of the World's Most Bizarre Festivals. We've found that most recipes for a bizarre festival include a shocking mix of excitement and danger. Strange traditions range so far and wide that even when you think you've stumbled upon the most bizarre, it’s guaranteed that there is yet another lurking around the corner, having been practiced by generations for hundreds or thousands of years. Our most current list includes DIY pyrotechnics, folks running up and riding down wooden poles, making babies cry and, of course, throwing feces, fire ants, molten iron and much more. So here they are, thirteen of the most bizarre.

1. Naghol Land Diving, Vanuatu

The tradition of men jumping off a hand-built 98-foot tower, with only vines tied around their ankles, happens to bear many meanings for the Sa tribe: a male rite of passage, a ritual to please the gods to ensure a bountiful yam harvest and the inspiration for modern-day bungee jumping. The ancient ceremony is rooted in the tale of a woman fleeing up a tree from her abusive husband, who climbs up after her when she resists his demand to come back down, with the threat of less violent repercussions if she accedes to his demands. As he reaches her, she leaps and plummets towards the ground, secretly fastened with liana vines around her ankles for safety while her husband follows after her, falling to his death.

2. Feast of St. Julian, Malta

Malta is known for its history, beautiful beaches, honey, handmade glassware, lace and their elaborate religious festivals. In particular, the Feast of St. Julian lands on our list because of a tradition that dates back to the Middle Ages – a game known as “Gostra.” Contestants of all ages attempt to run up a large wooden pole, which is slathered in grease and positioned on an incline, over water. The object is to reach and capture the symbolic flags at the other end in order to claim their prize. Most however, wind up meeting a different end.

3. Concurs de Castells, Spain

Whether referring to skyscrapers, amusement park rides, church steeples or the like, the word “tower” always conjures something larger than ourselves including the implication of high danger. The Spanish festival Concur de Castells entails the construction of a different kind of tower: one made entirely of humans. Dating back to the late 1700s, the biennial competition involves large teams (open to ages 5-95) and these human towers are known to have stacked as much as 9 stories high, always topped by a child.

4. Kanamara Matsuri, Japan

Kanamara Matsuri would gladly accommodate Seth’s suppressed dick-drawing problem in Superbad (2007). While phallic symbols are often subliminal and saturated with Freudian theories, this Japanese festival’s focus is unabashedly upon the penis. In fact, it’s the star of the show. The celebration is rooted in an ancient tradition promoting fertility, health and awareness of sexually transmitted diseases with a focus on HIV. Don’t be surprised to find festival-goers in penis costumes, eating penis-shaped food (boner appetite?), licking penis-shaped lollipops, or posing with a penis statue as if it were one’s great-uncle Dick.

5. Las Fallas, Spain

You know that spectacular finale which typically marks the end of an event – the largest, loudest, most brilliant fireworks, the encore hit at the end of a concert, the climactic moment of a dramatic play? For most events, these represent the short, but intense onslaught of thorough gratification; the final answer to your request for more. At Las Fallas however, the climax starts off the festival and it continues through to the end, lasting a total of two weeks. The festivities run day and night, with roughly 4 hours of down time to get some rest between its successive days. It is filled with large and elaborate structures, statues, marching bands, the constant sound of firecrackers, rockets, the smell of gunpowder, giant floats, costumes and more. You can rest assured though, they do have their version of a finale and it’s called La Crema.

Hero Lisdoonvarna Courtesy

6. Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival, Ireland

Willie Daly is considered to be the only true matchmaker left, and thousands of hopeful singles flock to the village of Lisdoonvarna in Ireland, where his pub (or office, as he likes to call it) is situated. Simply titled “The Matchmaker Bar,” it is the setting of a month-long practice, considered to be full of opportunities to discover your lifetime mate, or a good-time mate.

7. Molten Iron Throwing, China

As lights and fireworks shower over China for its famous Pingxi Sky Lantern Festival, the Village of Nuanquan practices a different celebration of lights. The 500-year-old tradition—which was born of not being able to afford the expense of fancy fireworks—involves the throwing of molten iron at a cold stone wall, creating a wild display of sparks. Only a hat, sheepskin and goggles protect the iron throwers, and when probed about the danger involved, they joke, “it’s not [dangerous], as long as you’re not afraid to die.” DIY pyrotechnics at its finest.

8. Mwaka Kogwa, Tanzania

The excitement (and danger, mostly to its non-native spectators) at Mwaka Kogwa begins as soon as the festival starts. Mock fights take place as large groups of men release pent-up aggression and settle old scores so they can begin the new year with resolution and a rested conscience. Where they once used wooden sticks as weapons, now they use banana stalks. And what used to be a tumultuous feud between the North and South, is now a channel for a semi-serious beating, followed by an ultra-serious eating. Bizarre, but I’d say they’ve come a long way!

9. Onbashira, Japan

Imagine sleigh riding, except without the snow, without the sled, and on a steeper slope, sitting freely on a gargantuan ancient tree log, charging down the hill, surrounded by crowds of at-risk spectators. Onbashira (“The Honored Pillars”) is a 1200-year-old tradition, which occurs once every 6 years (in the years of the monkey and the tiger), and involves hand-selecting, hand-preparing and erecting 4 massive logs in each of the corners of Shimo Suwa, Japan’s temple. Despite the risk involved in this log-sledding tradition, it’s considered a great honor to participate.

10. Fantasy Fest, Florida

Fantasy Fest was originated from, well, a fantasy. The fantasy, however, was less of a fetish and more of a dream or goal; a vision of Joe Liszka, to bring a boost to its Key West economy during the slow season. At the end of October of each year, the streets of Key West are designated as “Fantasy Zone.” Each year brings a new theme, some of which have included “Va Va Voom,” “House of Horrors,” “Fantasy in Space” and “Plays of Tennessee Williams.” The festival now produces the most revenue of any week of the year. Liszka’s fantasy has become a big reality.

11. Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw and Festival, Wisconsin

If you think you’ll locate a “cow chip” somewhere between the milk aisle and the snack aisle, you’re mistaken. Cow chips are, in fact, a batch of dried up cow poo...odorless, but nevertheless poo. When early settlers were desperate for fuel in the winter months, they turned to buffalo chips (yep, still poo) and found that they burned strong, clean and bright, without the undesirable by-product of soot. Now they are the flying saucers of the Wisconsin Cow Chip Throw and Festival, where contestants compete for the farthest throw, some of which reach as far as 248 feet (the current state record)! And by the way, still poo.

12. Entroido, Spain

In Galicia each year, the townspeople participate in an even more strange kind of throw – one that makes dried cow dung seem pleasant (maybe). Townspeople gather while dressed in protective gear for the throwing of flour, ash, dirt and live fire ants. Prior to the throwing, the ants are covered in vinegar to make them more aggressive, and thus, more likely to bite. As the day goes on, a man with a mask (the "morena") runs through the streets using a cow’s head on a stick to lift women’s skirts with the animal’s horns. Some of Entroido’s other bizarre activities include burning torches of hay, neighbors throwing dirt at runners from second floor windows as an act of purification, and the whipping of people on the street. Entroido happens every year before Lent, with food, drinking and costumes.

13. Nakizumo, Japan

Japanese belief asserts that the tears of children ensure their good health. The same belief also asserts that Nakizumo or the “crying sumo” festival deserves a firm spot on our list. The competition is 400 years old and is certainly bizarre. Although not so dangerous when compared to some of the other festivals here, it does make you want to cry. As each sumo wrestler holds a baby high in the air (so their cries are closer to heaven), they are induced to tears by a sumo judge. The first baby to cry wins. In the event of a tie, the louder cry prevails. If they laugh, the wrestlers put on scary masks in order to supposedly drive the evil spirits away.