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There are some great festivals out there that are celebrated annually with great enthusiasm and flair. Then there are those festivals that make you scratch your head…like Polkafest.
They make sense – to some folks, but you wonder how many people actually show up for them, right?
There’s also a special class of festivals reserved for the truly bizarre celebrations of communities big and small. Anyone can throw a tomato or orange at someone and call it a good time. Not everyone can dress up in redneck shorts, jump a stack of babies, or chase after a roll of cheese down a steep hill!
Here is a look at some of the craziest festivals you’ll find anywhere. Are any of these close to your home?
- Bizarre Festivals from Around the World:
- 1. The Redneck Games – East Dublin, GA
- 2. The Ukulele Festival – Oahu, HI
- 3. Inti Raymi – Cuzco, Peru
- 4. Night of the Radishes – Oaxaca, Mexico
- 5. Tunarama – Port Lincoln, Australia
- 6. Boryeong Mud Festival – Boryeong, South Korea
- 7. International Hair Freezing Contest – Whitehorse, Canada
- 8. Air Guitar World Championship – Oulu, Finland
- 9. Water Gun Festival – Seoul, South Korea
- 10. World Toe Wrestling Championships — England, UK
- 11. Baby Jumping Fiesta – Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
- 12. Día de los Muertos – Mexico
- 13. Thaipusam – Tamil Nadu
- 14. Running of the Bulls – Pamplona, Spain
- 15. Underwater Music Festival – FL
- 16. Cheung Chau Bun Festival – Hong Kong, China
- 17. La Tomatina – Buñol, Spain
- 18. Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Kawasaki, Japan
- 19. Busó Festival – Mohács, Hungary
- 20. Ugadi – Kairuppala, India
- 21. La Pourcailhade – Trie-sur-Baïse, France
- 22. Lopburi Monkey Banquet, Thailand
- 23. Up-Helly Aa – Shetland, Scotland, UK
- 24. Cheese-Rolling Festival – Cooper’s Hill, England, UK
- 25. Burning Man – Black Rock Desert, NV
Bizarre Festivals from Around the World:
1. The Redneck Games – East Dublin, GA
The Redneck Games is held in East Dublin, Georgia, United States. This event began in 1996 and ended in 2012. It was held annually. The games were started by the general manager of a radio station WQZY-FM “Y96,” Mac Davies.
About 500 people were recorded to be turning up for the Redneck Games. Participants would engage in activities such as the following:
- Toilet seat throwing
- Seed spitting
- Armpit serenade
- Bug zapping by spitball
- Mud pit belly flop
- Big-hair contest
- Wet T-shirt contest
- Hubcap hurling
- The cigarette flips
- Bobbing for pig’s feet
- Dumpster diving
A trophy was awarded to a winner in each category. Surprisingly, this bizarre event enjoyed live coverage by renowned media outlets in the US.
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2. The Ukulele Festival – Oahu, HI
Roy Sakuma started Ukulele Festival. He was a groundskeeper at Kapiolani Park. The festival is held in different countries worldwide, but the Hawaiian festival remains the biggest.
The Ukulele Festival is held once every year in the Hawaiian Islands. As many as 800 students come together yearly to play a beautiful chorus of ukuleles. Even famous recording artists often come to strum their instruments along with the kids!
This festival is meant to make the world happier and promote interest in Hawaii’s arts and culture by offering education, scholarship, and ukeleles.
3. Inti Raymi – Cuzco, Peru
Many festivals are dedicated to chasing evil spirits, but that doesn’t make it bizarre. Even throwing llamas into the mix doesn’t make the grade. At Inti Raymi, also known as Festival of the Sun, an ancient Incan tradition comes back to life.
The Son of the Sun is carried out to Sacsayhuamán, an ancient fortress in the hills just outside the city, to celebrate all things Inca.
You can expect lots of colorful dancing, prayers, and llamas running for their lives in case the crazy humans change their minds about a “reenacted” ritual sacrifice.
4. Night of the Radishes – Oaxaca, Mexico
If the name weren’t already slightly disconcerting, imagine being confronted by dozens of men wielding knives, dripping red. As you pass, one of them realizes you have a few groceries in your hand and turns to ask, “Do you have any radishes?”
Incidents like that are no longer considered strange during this festival because the skills to carve a radish become the focal point of life!
Over the years, this festival has produced outstanding radish carvings that range from nativity scenes to replicas of famous paintings.
Stick around while visiting Mexico through Christmas for parades and street dances if you want to witness it. It’s bizarre – but it’s also hilarious and endearing.
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5. Tunarama – Port Lincoln, Australia
Who doesn’t love tossing a giant fish as far as you can? That is the concept behind Tunarama, initially created to support the local fledgling fishing industry. As a participant, you can engage in a tug of war, beauty contests, and a talent contest if you’re talented – or not.
Stick around for the fish parade, see some kids dressed up as penguins, and you’ll have a family-friendly time. Unless you’re a giant fish, someone might throw you someplace.
6. Boryeong Mud Festival – Boryeong, South Korea
Boryeong Mud Festival is one of the more unusual festivals in South Korea. The village of Boryeong, where this annual festival happens, is located a few miles from Seoul.
It all started as a marketing strategy in 1998. The festival has since grown to be one of the most popular events in the region, drawing visitors worldwide.
As the name suggests, the Boryeong Annual Mud Festival involves getting in the mud, mud wrestling, mud slides, mud fireworks, and other mud-related activities.
What is so special about this event is the composition of the mud in this village. Tests have revealed that it comprises natural minerals and nutrients that benefit the skin. It seems this is not one of the bizarre festivals after all! Until you consider, there’s a mud prison. You’ve been warned.
The festival begins in July and is done for ten consecutive days. Participants engage in mudslides or mud skiing. You can also go to massage facilities and makeover sessions for guests.
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7. International Hair Freezing Contest – Whitehorse, Canada
If you believe you cannot face the winter weather in the north without a headcover, you are mistaken. The town of Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada, holds the International Hair Freezing Contest every year – featuring a bunch of hatless maniacs.
The International Hair Freezing Contest involves dipping one’s head in the water and letting it freeze in the cold winter temperatures, creating bizarre frozen hair sculptures.
That quickly makes it one of the most unusual festivals globally. This unusual festival is held annually every year in February. The contest winners are crowned in March. Good for them.
8. Air Guitar World Championship – Oulu, Finland
The Air Guitar World Championship is one of the weirdest festivals worldwide where artists showcase their skills in playing guitar. Well, if they could play guitar. I assume most can’t – otherwise, they’d be at a guitar contest. As the name suggests, this contest is for Air Guitar enthusiasts. It is held in Finland yearly and is as cool as possible.
Participants everywhere flock here to play an invisible heavy metal-style guitar, an imaginary glam rock guitar, or any other combination of squealing strings and air-based instruments.
The festival is often coupled with dancing and singing, with the voices of thousands of fans echoing through the air.
The Air Guitar World Championship is a one-of-a-kind festival that started in 1996. It was an initiative to promote world peace in Europe, Australia, the USA, Japan, the UK, New Zealand, and Canada.
Well, peace may not be within our time, but this festival is more popular than ever and still gaining followers!
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9. Water Gun Festival – Seoul, South Korea
South Korea seems never to fall short of most unusual festivals. As well as the Mud Festival, a water gun festival is held in the Sinchon district of Seoul.
Water Gun Festival is one of the most popular summer festivals that gives all participants a new summer experience. People engage in different water battles and other events, which include power-packed music performances, street dancing, and more.
The Sinchon district of Seoul is the place to be if you want a unique summer experience.
10. World Toe Wrestling Championships — England, UK
World Toe Wrestling Championship is one of the most violent, bizarre festivals. It started in the 1970s in the village of Wetton, Staffordshire, but presently, its venue currently varies.
The World Toe Wrestling Championships was started to fulfill the growing need for the UK to invent another sport (which they seem to have invented most of) that they weren’t immediately bested at by another country.
You can think of it as arm wrestling. But instead of using arms, toes are made to wrestle each other. Two wrestlers face each other in every match. The winner in any fixture faces a winner from another pool. That continues until the winner of the entire festival emerges- presumably with battered toes.
A qualified nurse examines participants in this weird festival. The toes are evaluated, and only those who pass the test are cleared to participate in the championship. It’s serious stuff!
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11. Baby Jumping Fiesta – Castrillo de Murcia, Spain
You are mistaken if you think our list is nearing the end. We have returned with one of the most unusual festivals worldwide, held yearly in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia.
The Baby Jumping Fiesta or Baby Jumping Festival, or World El Colacho, is not about babies jumping. Instead, babies lay on blankets on the street, and men dressed as the devil in red and yellow suits jump over them while the crown hurls insults at him.
Knowing what drives people to engage in such unusual festivals is hard. However, Baby Jumping Festival participants say it is about culture, religion, and tradition.
The event occurs annually as part of the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi and keeps participants and attendants in heart-stopping suspense – because it’s real babies.
12. Día de los Muertos – Mexico
How weird can the weirdest festival be? It’s hard to beat the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico every December! As the name suggests, an entire day is dedicated to the deceased.
The Day of the Dead festival is one of the weird festivals that share many features with Halloween. On this day, family and friends gather to pray and remember their relatives who have passed away.
Nothing is wrong with praying for our beloved ones who left us. However, this qualifies as one of the most bizarre festivals worldwide because of the beliefs attached to it.
By holding the festival, participants believe that the spirits of the dead come to earth once again to eat, drink, and dance with the relatives they left behind. These spirits are the honored guests on this day. You can join a Day of the Dead tour to see the festival.
They are welcome to dine with people by making the meals they liked when still alive. Another thing that makes the Day of the Dead Festival bizarre is people celebrate instead of mourning – which I honestly think is beautiful.
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13. Thaipusam – Tamil Nadu
Thaipusam is also held in other countries, including Malaysia, Sri Lanka, and Singapore. It is a Hindu festival held in places where Tamils live.
The religious devotees fulfill their vows by doing extreme asceticism. You might categorize it as one of the bizarre festivals if you see what some people do to prove their loyalty to the religion. Many people come to showcase their body piercings made with oversize needles and hooks.
The festival is held annually to commemorate an Indian myth, which states that the Goddess of Fertility gives the god of war a spear to fight and defeat evil.
14. Running of the Bulls – Pamplona, Spain
You will always be amazed by how far people can go to honor this unusual festival in Pamplona. The famous Running of Bulls Festival is during the San Fermin Festival in July.
The festival draws people worldwide who want to run in front of aggressive, riled-up bulls through narrow streets. The running session takes place in the morning, and it is quite common for participants to get seriously hurt!
Evenings are dedicated to bullfights, which Spanish tradition enthusiasts are eager to watch without blinking an eye. Again, participants can get seriously hurt (or dead for the bull).
If that does not define unusual festivals, we don’t know what will. Any other time when bulls are not running is feast time. There are foods (with lots of beef), drinks, and live performances to keep everyone lively. Aside from the Pamplona walking tour, seeing this festival is among Mexico’s best things to do.
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15. Underwater Music Festival – FL
Underwater Music Festival draws divers, snorkelers, and musicians from around the world to Florida every year. It is sponsored by a local radio station that plays music as participants in whimsical nautical costumes mime along with the music. And for them to do that, they use special underwater musical instruments.
The underwater Music Festivals occur in the US’s only living coral reef barrier. The motive behind the festival is to promote environmental sustainability and responsible living.
That may be a positive ideology, but it never stops us from saying that the Underwater Music Festival is one of the most unusual festivals worldwide.
16. Cheung Chau Bun Festival – Hong Kong, China
Cheung Chau Bun Festival is a traditional Chinese festival. It’s a local tradition where the participants compete in a race to get the top bun at the tower of buns.
The Cheung Chau Bun Festival dates back to the 18th Century and marks the 8th day of the 4th month in the Chinese calendar. It also happens on the same day when Budha’s birthday is celebrated. Over 60,000 burns are made and stacked into enormous towers during the festival for participants to clamber up.
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17. La Tomatina – Buñol, Spain
La Tomatina, also known as Spanish Tomato Festival, happens annually every August in Buñol and lasts for a whole week. The festival dates back to 1945.
It all started when a rowdy group of locals took tomatoes from a vegetable stall and started a food fight. Since then, La Tomatina has been a ticketed event that draws people from many places to participate in a messy brawl for one hour.
If you hate food waste, look away. In 2015 alone, the hour-long fight used up around 145,000 kg (319,670 lbs) of tomatoes. Oof. Afterward, thousands of participants dip themselves in the pool of Los peñones while a track sprays the streets at the end of the festival.
18. Kanamara Matsuri Festival – Kawasaki, Japan
The Kanamara Matsuri Festival is undoubtedly one of the most unusual festivals in the world because everything about it is weird, if not bizarre.
Its name lamely translates to Festival of the Steel Phallus in English. In other words, this festival is about penises.
The event features penis-shaped lollipops, glasses, statues, and a scrotum load of willy-based souvenirs. All participants value these items in the shape of a male reproductive organ.
You will agree that the Kanamara Matsuri Festival is one of the weirdest festivals worldwide when we tell you the origin of this literal sausage party.
According to Japanese mythology, a sex demon fell in love with a gorgeous girl. However, he could not have the girl, which angered him. Seeking revenge, he resorted to stripping men of their phalluses – by biting them off.
The demon’s actions continued until a local blacksmith defeated him. The blacksmith created a metallic phallus to break the demon’s teeth as it went in for a chomp. Hence, the name Festival of the Steel Phallus. Now that is not weird, right?
19. Busó Festival – Mohács, Hungary
One of the unique festivals on this list is the Hungarian Busó Festival. It dates back to the 18th Century when men put on devil’s outfits to chase away winter!
Their dresses make them look scary, but can they scare away winter? The locals believed so. At least it’s warm inside those costumes, so I guess it works!
20. Ugadi – Kairuppala, India
Hindus view cows as sacred animals. So sacred are they that practically letting the cow poop on your face is considered great.
Okay, the cow doesn’t actually do you dirty like that – how do I put this…
This festival is very similar to the Spanish Tomato Festival. Instead of tomatoes, they use cow dung.
What is even weird about the festival is the number of people willingly participating!
They have an entire festival dedicated to it, which takes place annually. The whole festival might be a bit much for some of us. But to Hindus in this village, it is a cherished event.
21. La Pourcailhade – Trie-sur-Baïse, France
This annual festival in Trie Sur Baise is all about pigs. An entire festival is dedicated to showing how the French value pink meat in their menu!
The pig is one of the favorite animals among all French folk. They’re smart, loyal, friendly, and cute when they’re piglets. Most importantly, without them, there’d be no pork!
Many pig-related activities at the festival are its main highlight. Visitors can enjoy a pig imitation contest, piglet racing, a black pudding eating contest, and many other piggy-related hijinks. For pig lovers, nothing can get better than this festival. But to many, it is one of the most unusual festivals in the world.
22. Lopburi Monkey Banquet, Thailand
Lopburi Monkey Banquet or Monkey Buffet Festival is held in Thailand every November. It is where you need to be if you crave monkey madness.
The festival is held to bless the area and its people with a good harvest. It involves assembling about 4,000 kg (8,818 lb) of vegetables, fruits, and candies to feed a large local population of macaque monkeys. To join and witness the festival is among the best things to do in Thailand.
It was first held in 1989 by a local businessman. His idea was to pay gratitude to monkeys and hopefully bring in more tourists. We believe he was unaware of how successful his seemingly stupid idea would be. I say stupid as the monkeys in this neighborhood are now crazy-bold!
23. Up-Helly Aa – Shetland, Scotland, UK
Up-Helly Aa is a yearly fire festival in Scotland between January and March. It is a local tradition among the communities in Shetland to mark the end of the Yule Season.
The festival began in the 1880s. It has been bringing thousands of locals and tourists alike to celebrate the rich heritage of the Shetlands. During the event, there are parades, and countless blazing torches are held high for the entire world to see!
24. Cheese-Rolling Festival – Cooper’s Hill, England, UK
And now, another English festival revolving around a weird sport and people getting hurt. The Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake Festival is one of the most unusual festivals on this list. It’s held in South West England, near Gloucester, and it’s a one-of-a-kind competition.
The event involves participants launching down an incredibly steep and lumpy hill as they chase a giant wheel of cheese. The only objective of the festival was to catch the cheese before it came to rest.
However, rules have been changed to suit the ever-changing circumstances that make the cheese nearly impossible to catch up with – and to address the huge amounts of broken digits and limbs.
Believed to be at least 600 years old, this crazy festival in the United Kingdom was canceled in 2009, though not because of people bailing out on their desire to fly down a hill after some cheese.
The organizers couldn’t secure any insurance in case of injury, death, or some form of horrible bodily dismemberment that cheese consumption can’t fix. Don’t think a cancellation stopped the fun!
The event has been an “unofficial” festival since 2010 and is still held yearly. This, combined with the fact it’s about cheese and you can get a gnarly injury, gives this underground festival super-cool status
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25. Burning Man – Black Rock Desert, NV
To wrap up our list of the most unusual festivals worldwide, we include a Burning Man. This festival began in 1986 in San Francisco, California, but has since moved.
An artistic community goes to the Nevada Desert to create and dismantle a city during the event. The main reason for this festival is to promote inclusion, self-reliance, community cooperation, self-expression, free love, opening your mind, and everything else in between.
The participants combine their skills and talents to create buildings, sculptures, art cars, performances, and consuming mind-expanding “substances.”
The participants erase their traces in the desert after the events. The aim is to leave it as they found it without affecting the environment. I dig the ethos of this festival, but as someone who has been, I can say it’s truly weird – in more ways than I can comfortably express.
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.