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10 Craziest Festivals on the Planet

Grab some bandages and crying babies. It’s about to get weird.

Photo by Terry Trewin / Getty Images | Licensed to Alpha Media Group 2012
It seems like almost everything has a festival of sorts attached to it: movies, dance, music, wine, sports, mullets, even the eating of bull testicles (seriously, it’s in Clinton, Montana). Compiling a list of the most outlandish festivals around the world sounds easy, but Party Earth found out it’s a pain in the ass. The Camel Wrestling Championships in Turkey seemed pretty cool, but our cousin in film school just shot a documentary about it and we didn’t want to step on her camels’ toes. And Thailand’s Monkey Buffet Festival sounded amazing until we realized it’s actually a buffet for monkeys, not of them. Lame.

1. The Ba, Kirkwall, Scotland – December 26th and January 1st

Sort of like capture the flag on steroids, or maybe football with fewer rules, or maybe a city-wide riot with more rules, The Ba is a historic sporting event that’s been taking place in the tiny town of Kirkwall since the 17th Century. Occurring both on Christmas and New Year’s Day, the game begins when the soccer-sized ball is thrown into a mob of 350 riled-up Scotsman. The two teams (“Uppies” and “Doonies”) then do whatever they can to get the ball to their opposing destinations across town. Once a winner is officially decided, black eyes and wounded egos are quickly mended as everyone piles into the pubs. Because they may take our Ba, but they’ll never take…OUR FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!

2. The Farrapada, Laza, Spain – February - Day Before Fat Tuesday

In the small community of Laza, Spain, people fling mud and ants to celebrating the global party of Carnival. It’s a far cry from the boobyfest in Brazil or the massive gatherings in Madrid and Barcelona. Thick jackets and protective eyewear at the ready, participants spend upwards of two hours hurling mud-soaked rags at each other, which wouldn’t sound so bad if the mud wasn’t mixed with fire ants and vinegar, or if attendees didn’t make it a point to aim for the face. Ants apparently frickin’ hate vinegar. Not so sure they enjoy being hurled across a town square either.

3. Nakizumo Crying Babies Festival, Tokyo, Japan – 4th Sunday of April

A tradition dating back more than four centuries, the Nakizumo – or “baby cry sumo” – Festival involves amateur sumo wrestlers gathering at the Sensō-ji Temple in Tokyo as mothers bring their babies up for a chance to test newly formed vocal chords. Monks first bless each baby, after which the hefty wrestlers pick them up (the babies, not the monks) and proceed to growl, bark, sneer, and generally make faces that would cause a grown man to pee his pants. The baby that cries first “wins,” though in the event of a tie the prize goes to the baby with the loudest wail. No prizes are actually awarded, but a healthy cry is thought to symbolize a healthy baby. In other news, former child participants require lots of therapy and hate fat people.


4. Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake Festival, Gloucester, England – June 4th, 2012

Every year at the end of May, atop a really steep hill near the modest-sized city of Gloucester, hundreds of people gather from not just England but New York, Japan, and all over the world to chase the cheese. Participants run after a thick eight-pound round of Double Gloucester as it rolls down Cooper’s Hill at speeds of up to 70mph. Guaranteed each year are sprained ankles, busted bones, and several concussions during the four separate races and – given the cheese’s propensity to roll wherever the hell it wants – that’s just the spectators. The winner is the man or woman who catches the Double G first, after which they’re awarded the chance to eat what’s left of their prize.

5. The Kavadi of Thaipusam, India/Malaysia/Singapore – February 7th, 2012 and January 27th, 2013

Pain = Party to some people. Considered a holy offering to god, the Kavadi requires engaging in a physical burden as proof of devotion, and die-hard devotees take this burden very seriously. Some will fast for forty-eight days prior to the Thaipusam, after which they pierce their tongue, forehead, and cheeks with skewers, even going so far as to drag weights down the street via hooks pierced into their backs or with ornate Inquisition-style contraptions on their heads. It’s like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade except...nothing. This is EXACTLY like the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade.

6. Calcio Storico, Florence, Italy – Every June 24th

The Calcio Storico isn’t for the weak or those who hate the sight of their own bones. The event involves teams of 27 players that gather inside Piazza Santa Croce and kick the crap out of each other to prevent the opposing team from scoring; an act achieved by tossing a ball over a four-foot wall on either end of the field. Six referees dressed in Renaissance-garb do their best to enforce the rules, which can basically be summed up as “no sucker punching” and “no head kicks.” Elbowing, head-butting, and straight up you-see-me-about-to-punch-you-punching, however, are perfectly acceptable, so after the 50-minute bouts conclude most participants are bleeding profusely. The best thing? The winning team receives a pile of steaks. Italy is awesome.

7. The Redneck Games, Dublin, Georgia – May 26th, 2012

Back in 1996 the city of Atlanta was vying to host the Summer Olympics, which led to a slew of media commentary about how the 4x100 meter relay was going to be replaced with race cars and how the archery event would devolve into all out warfare. The GM of a local radio station fought back the redneck prejudice by organizing an annual event that still attracts several thousand people from all over the country to participate in proud redneck pastimes like the cigarette flip, seed spitting, toilet seat throwing, and spot the nervous liberal (we made that last one up).

8. The Wasserschlacht Festival in Berlin, Germany – On Hold But Usually Varying Sundays in Summer

The name sounds harmless enough, but Berlin’s “Water Fight” Festival, which has taken place between denizens of Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg since 1998, is a lot more than a balloon toss. The festival began as a way for Kreuzberg’s ultra-alternative set to show their disapproval of the perceived yuppiefication across the river in Friedrichshain. The event begins on the Oberbaumbrucke Bridge and quickly degrades into a massive melee where participants in makeshift armor throw rotten eggs, slabs of meat, and even sickeningly full diapers at each other. Though unofficial mass-gatherings continue, 2011 sadly saw the event officially put on hold over concerns the bridge couldn’t hold the expected five-thousand attendees. The several cars and storefronts set ablaze the year prior probably didn’t help either, though people aren’t known to act rationally with a face-full of baby poop.

9. Bolas de Fuego, Nejapa, El Salvador – Every August 31st  

Back in the 1920s a volcano almost completely destroyed the small El Salvadorian town of Nejapa with bursting balls of raining lava. So, naturally, residents have gathered every year since for the Bolas de Fuego (“Balls of Fire”) Festival, to pay back the volcano by throwing flaming, kerosene-soaked rags…at each other. Two teams – comprised mostly of young men because young men are less flammable – gather on the last day in August with their faces painted and wearing a few extra pieces of clothing on for “protection.” The crowds that form on the sidewalks are also protected, in this case by a tiny collection of often-drunk guys with makeshift shields that also have a propensity to catch fire. The flaming battle ensues for about 90-minutes, after which everyone takes their singed bods home and the nearby volcano wonders, “What the hell is wrong with all these people?”   

10.  Darwin Beer Can Regatta, Darwin, Australia – July 15th, 2012

The name pretty much sums up this annual race held in the far-north territory of Darwin, Australia. Rules have changed little since the event began back in the ‘70s: all boats must be made entirely out of empties (normally beer, but soda and milk cartons are also allowed) and no boat may be tested for seaworthiness before the race. As a result, many of these vessels sink the minute they’re put in the water (how solid are your building skills 500 cans deep?) while others slowly chip apart as paddlers battle their way to a buoy and back. The city of Darwin is known for being one of the largest per-capita consumers of beer in the country, so residents aren’t in danger of running out of building material anytime soon.

Be sure to check out Party Earth for more festivals and events, as well as detailed reviews of the coolest things to do and places to be in your city.