Put away the streamers, the nice music, and the piping hot hors d’oeuvres — in fact, forget everything you know about celebrations. While you might imagine festivals as casual gatherings, when they reach their full potentials, they’re marvelous exhibits of colors, oddities, baby jumpings, tomato tossings, and more (seriously).People all over the planet love to party, and festival organizers dream up the wildest ways to honor long-lasting traditions, celebrate the present, and welcome the future. These 20 cultural festivals annually pull out all the stops to create the most unforgettable — and unbelievable — experiences ever…
1. La Tomatina Festiva (Bunyol, Spain): Since 1945, tens of thousands of participants gather in the streets to throw tomatoes at each other. For what reason? None at all. This annual event — dubbed the world’s largest food fight — is held for pure entertainment.
2. Winter Scareaway Festival (Mohácsi Busójárás, Hungary): This Hungarian tradition involves people dressing in scary costumes in the hopes of scaring away the impending cold weather. The idea draws from a 1526 victory where villagers dressed as monsters to scare off an invading Turkish army.
3. Yi Peng Lantern Festival (Thailand): The festival is held annually in Thailand and the surrounding countries with strong Thai roots. Festival-goers light thousands of paper lanterns and release them into the sky. It represents letting go of negative energy and making room for well wishes and the positive energy to come.
4. El Colacho (Baby Jumping) (Spain): Every year in Castrillo de Murcia, Spain, in celebration of the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi, newborn babies are lined up and placed on mattresses. They are sprinkled with petals and confetti, and then men in yellow and red jump over them. It’s said to cleanse the newborns from original sin.
5. Holi Color Festival (India): Every spring, to mark the end of winter, bright and colorful powder fills the streets, and people throw it at one another. This represents the triumph of good over evil, and is based on a Hindu god, Krishna. She loved to play pranks and would splash water and color onto village girls.
6. International Highline Meeting Festival (Monte Piana, Italy): People from all over the world gather here with fellow “slackers” to spend their day suspended over the dolomite Alps on a slackline. They walk on the slackline and set up their hammocks, where they chill with other adventure junkies and enjoy the breathtaking view.
Mohai Balázs / MTI
7. Dia De Los Muertos Festival (Mexico): This 500-year-old tradition translates to Day of the Dead. The three-day festival — usually held in cemeteries — celebrates family members and loved ones that have passed away. Families display altars with the favorite foods and items of their deceased loved ones, encouraging them to visit so they can hear their family’s prayers.
8. Golden Retriever Festival (Scotland): Golden Retrievers hail from the rolling hills of Scotland, and in the summer of 2006, hundreds of Golden Retrievers from all around traveled to their motherland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland. Owners loved this so much they have since made it an annual gathering.
9. Songkran Water Festival (Thailand): During the early spring (April 13-15), Thailand breaks out into a massive water fight. The origin of this tradition stems from a time when Thai people washed their homes to cleanse themselves from the past year’s energy. Nowadays, it’s more of a fun festival — and way to beat the heat.
10. The Monkey Buffet Festival (Lopburi Province, Thailand): Every November, villagers lay food out for the monkeys in the area to enjoy a free meal. It is believed to have started as a way to honor the Hindu monkey god, Hanuman. The extra tourism the festival brings is just an added bonus.
Chaiwat Subprasom / Reuters
11. Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling Festival (England): Every year in Gloucester, people gather to a very steep incline known as Cooper’s Hill. The whole point of the contest is to chase a cheese wheel down the massive hill. Whoever crosses the finish line first gets to keep said cheese wheel as a victory prize. The rest usually end up at the hospital.
12. Moose Dropping Festival (Talkeetna, Alaska): The festival celebrates exactly what you think it does… moose excrement. The small village holds a festival to celebrate the moose by turning their fecal matter into trinkets, like jewelry, and dropping it out of hot air balloons in an attempt to hit a target.
13. Boryeong Mud Festival (Boryeong, South Korea): This tradition originally started out as a marketing stunt produced by a make-up company to advertise the mineral mud used in their product. People in the area loved it so much they made it into an annual event.
14. Coney Island Mermaid Parade (Brooklyn, United States): This massive gathering takes place annually on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice. The parade celebrates the start of summer and heavily encourages individuality. Thousands of people participate in the parade each year.
15. Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (United States): The festival takes place over nine days in early October. The world’s largest balloon festival, over 500 hot air balloons — in various colors and shaped like famous characters — annually take to the skies.
16. Ágitagueda Art Festival (Ágitagueda, Portugal): This creative festival used to celebrate the diverse landscape of Ágitagueda and has been around for just about a decade. Each year, people hang colorful umbrellas all over town during the duration of the festival.
17. Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme (Las Nieves, Spain): The festival is held in honor of Saint Marta de Ribarteme, the saint of resurrection. People who lived through a near-death experience during the past year are paraded around the streets in a coffin to show their gratitude for having another chance at life.
18. Puli Kali Festival (India): The tiger festival dates back to about 200 years ago. It features recreational folk art where artists dress up as tigers and hunters and perform a dance called the “Play of the Tigers.” It takes place during the Onam, an annual harvest festival celebrated in the Indian state of Kerala.
19. Las Fallas de Valencia (Spain): This tradition was added to the UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list several years back, and it celebrates the commemoration of Saint Joseph. Each neighborhood creates a monument that is eventually burned in the festivities. Falles refers to the burning of monuments during the celebrations.
20. Finally, Els Enfarinats (Alicante, Spain): This 200-year-old tradition takes place on December 28 each year to celebrate the Day of the Innocents. People take part in a mock battle between the married men, “Els Enfarinats,” and the group trying to restore order, “La Oposicio.” They fight by throwing flour and eggs at one another. At the end of the day, order is restored and any money raised is donated to charity.
Morell / EPA