We humans are an odd bunch at the best of times. Couple that with our love of a party and voila! Our own strange tendencies become a cultural occasion. Whether born of religion, harvest cycles or someone’s perverse sense of humour, the way in which we celebrate helps define and express who we are, both as individuals and as cultures.
And the more bizarre the celebration, the more it can tell us about the people beneath Europe’s tired stereotypes. This is Europe with its mask off.
In 2014 One Small World will visit almost 30 of Europe’s most bizarre and surreal festivals. Here blogger Grant Mills counts down 10 of the best.
10. Mud Olympics
Though generally regarded as a fastidious nation, the Germans cut loose with their annual Mud Olympics in July, held in the thick, sucking mud of Hamburg’s Elbe River. Teams compete in events such as Mud Football, the Mud Eel Race and the Rubber Boot Toss.
9. Pumpkin regatta
Like Pumpkin? How about 400,000 pumpkins consisting of 500 different varieties? Then you’ll love the Ludwigsburg Pumpkin festival in September. With every conceivable pumpkin-related activity on offer, the festival hits its high note with the Pumpkin Regatta, as competitors paddle their hollowed-out pumpkin to victory, in the shadow of Germany’s gorgeous Ludwigsburg Palace.
8. Cheese Rolling
The quintessential inexplicable sport. Steep hill, wheel of cheese, the Darwinian balancing act of ‘Risk of Hospitalisation’ versus ‘Glory and all the cheese that comes with it’. The event persists each May despite the efforts of England’s querulous ‘Public Outrage Police’.
7. Festival of the Unusual
The French embrace the strange with a July festival devoted solely to the sports you didn’t know existed; Crepe Launching, Hospital Bed Racing, Apricot Kernel Spitting, and much more. This is your chance to get into the record books and be remembered forever by your friends and family for your ‘obscure talents’.
6. Es Firo
When is being attacked by pirates a cause for celebration? At the festival of Es Firo in Majorca each May, they don’t just commemorate the city’s 1561 victory over invading pirates, they re-enact the invasion. Storm the port; seize the town!
5. Hopping Procession of Echternach
Listed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, this parade in honour of St Willibrord, dates back almost 1000 years. Which means it can be excused for having no idea why the celebration takes the form it does.
Every June thousands of people join the procession through the Luxembourg town of Echternach, dancing and hopping in time with crisp white handkerchiefs, like Morris dancers visiting a hoedown. And they have no idea why, which makes the scene all that more surreal.
4. World Toe Wrestling Championship
England’s summer of sport includes toe-on-toe action for the title of World Champion Toe-Wrestler. Purported to have been devised in the 1970s so that England would have a chance to be the best in the world in at least one sport, they were thwarted as a Canadian won the inaugural event. Yet the English have stamped their dominance on the sport with Englishman Alan ‘Nasty’ Nash claiming his 10th straight title in May, 2013.
3. Festival of the Pig
The French love pigs so much that they devoted a festival to them every August, encompassing activities ranging from their consumption to their imitation. The festival hits the heights of bizarre with the Pig-Squealing competition, where contestants have to be able to imitate a good French porker’s squeal at numerous stages in the pig’s life cycle, from feeding to reproducing.
2. Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling
The Welsh, known for the sogginess of their soil and the bogginess of their bogs, have turned swamp-watching into a spectator sport. Armed with a weighted mountain bike, a snorkel and occasionally fancy-dress, contestants compete in an underwater time trial in a cold Welsh bog in August.
1. Las Fallas
Las Fallas is an epic, flaming testament to the Spanish love of a fiesta and their outright distain for modern risk-minimisation. After a week long celebration of parades and midday fireworks, all-night partying and crack-of-dawn marching bands every March, this chaotic dervish of a festival ends in dramatic fashion. In the space of one night, the Valencians set alight almost 350 multi-story sculptures, burning hundreds of thousands of dollars of work, and risking city-wide cremation.