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Rebeka Bergin

7 Weird and Wonderful Festivals Around the World

A red and orange sparkly firework display at a festival

Halloween is here, a festival very prominent in America, but celebrated by many all over the world in which kids and grown ups alike take part in many fun activities. These include dressing up as their favourite characters and knocking on strangers' doors for sweets (candy if you’re American), carving spooky faces in pumpkins to make jack o' lanterns, bobbing for apples, throwing fancy dress parties and watching your favourite scary movies.

It may seem strange that people all over the world, especially a heavily Christian place like America, would celebrate a holiday centred around horror, death and suspicion, that is until you trace it back to its roots.

It’s believed that Halloween descends from an ancient (but still celebrated) Pagan festival called Samhain. 2,000 years ago the Celts, who lived in areas that are now the UK, Ireland and France, celebrated their new year on November 1st and the night before was the day in which they believed the summer and harvest had ended and the colder and dark time of winter was beginning. This time was heavily associated with death and when they believed the veil between the living and the dead was at its thinnest.

At this time it was said spirits walked the earth, both good and evil. A place was set at the dinner table for their loved ones who had passed and candles were lit to light their way. Masks and costumes were worn to disguise themselves as to avoid harm from evil spirits, a tradition it seems that the Christianised holiday of Halloween has carried over amongst other things.

Pope Gregory III moved All Saints Day (a day dedicated to the Christian saints) from 13th May to 1st November as Christianity grew in popularity. This saw the beginning of the Christinaisation of Samhain. All Saints Day was also knows as "All Hallows Day" and thus came the term "Haloween" for the night before (31st October) which was "All Hallows Eve". It is argued that this date was moved to purposfully replace the ancient Pagan festival since Christian hierachy did not look favourably on the Pagan practices and wished to make Christianity more widespread.

This holiday season had me thinking about what other weirdly wonderful festivals are celebrated all the way around the world and here are 7 of my favourites that I stumbled upon.

1. La Tomatina, Spain

This festival held in a town called Bunol in Valencia, Spain happens at the end of August. Thousands of people come from all over the world to participate in a battle of tomato throwing. During this festival over 100 metric tonnes of extremely ripe tomatoes are thrown in the streets of Bunol.

Noone is certain how this tradition began but it has taken place since 1944 or 1945. Some believe it began as a result of angry tonwnspeople rioting and throwing tomatoes at coucilmen during a town celebration.

2. Lopburi Monkey Festival, Thailand

In a town called Lopburi in Thailand (north of Bangkok), every November the 3000 resident Macaques are given a feast. 4000 kilos of fruit, vegetables, cakes and other foods are placed on banquet tables and mats for the monkeys to come and eat. The festival starts with music, dances by people in monkey costumes and even a speech from the governor.

The festival started in 1989 when a local inn manager decided to thank the monkeys for his thriving business. At the same time this also brought more tourism to the town.

3. Naki Sumo, Japan

Known as the "Baby Crying Festival”, Naki Sumo takes place in Sensoji Temple in Tokyo. At this festival, which is a 400 year old tradition, Sumo wrestlers face off against each other by holding a baby in the air and trying to scare their opponent’s baby into crying.

Willing parents bring their babies to this strange festival because it is believed the crying keeps their babies in good health.

4. Wife Carrying Championship, Finland

This odd festival that takes place in Sonkajaervi, Finland sees men racing through a whole obstacle course while carrying their own (or a borrowed) wife. Couples travel from all over the world to compete in this race. The festival is based on the 19th century legend of Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen (Ronkainen the Robber).

There are 3 possible stories which led to these races. The first is that Ronkainen and his men fled with women on their backs after they were accused of stealing food and women from the village they lived in. The second is that they’d go to villages near their own and steal men’s wives to make them their own, and lastly Ronkainen trained his thieves by having them carry heavy sacks on their backs.

The championship has been held in Finland every year since 1992 and the winner wins his wife’s weight in beer!

5. Up Helly Aa, Scotland

Also known as the “Viking Fire Festival” Up Helly Aa is the biggest fire festival in Europe. Taking place in the Shetland town of Lerwick, this festival has been around since the 1880s. It is a celebration of the end of Yule and their history and great spirit.

The head of the festival, called the ‘Guizer Jarl’, leads 100s of men (Jarl Squad) dressed as Vikings with torches in hand throughout Lerwick to set fire to a longboat in the city centre. The festivities go on all day and right through the night, celebrations can even carry on going the day after, after all the next day is a public holiday!

6. El Calacho, Spain

El Calacho, or the “Baby Jumping Festival” gets a lot of criticism for being the riskiest festival, and for good reason. This festival dates back to the 1600s and takes place in a Catholic village called Castrillo de Murcia in Spain.

While most Catholics baptize their babies to wash them of original sin, in this village a festival is held in which babies born the previous year are laid on a mattress in the village centre and a man dressed as the devil does a run and jump over them. Once they have been jumped over they are absolved of original sin.

The festival takes place 60 days after Easter during the village’s religious feast of Corpus Christi. So far their have been no casualties at this event, but Pope Benedict himself frowned upon the festival, urging Spanish clergy men to take no part in the festivities.

7. Noche de Los Rábanos, Mexico

This festival held on the 23rd December every year in Oaxaca, Mexico literally translates to “Nigh of The Radishes”. Much like the American’s have carved pumpkins for Halloween, Oaxacans have radishes for Christmas.

The celebration stretches back further than a century. Shopkeepers would carve shapes into the red skin of the radishes in hopes to attract shoppers before and after Christmas church services. The radishes were often carved into little people or decorated with other vegetables on sale. It was very successful and so in 1897, the mayor of Oaxaca turned it into a yearly festival called “Noche de Los Rabanos".

Whether you’re celebrating 31st October Halloween style— eating lots of candy, wearing lots of face paint and watching scary movies, or your celebrating Samhain with your loved ones around a lovely candle-lit feast, be safe and have a wonderful October 31st!

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