Ever thought making a baby cry, wrestling with your toe or even chasing after cheese would become a widely celebrated festival? Think again! Some annual events are born from traditional customs or religious rituals, whereas, others emerge from social media trends or even out of sheer boredom. Check out our top 20 for the most unusual, unique festivals from around the world that you never thought existed and make sure to add them to your itinerary if you’re in the city around that time of year.
20 Most Unusual & Unique Festivals Around the World
Las Bolas de Fuego, El Salvador
Each year on the evening of 31st August, residents of Nejapa gather around to throw fireballs in commemoration of the 1658 El Playon volcanic eruption. History has it that the natural disaster forced the villagers of the old town to flee and settle in their current location. Today, residents split themselves into two teams to paint their faces like skulls and begin the festival by hurling palm-sized fireballs of kerosene at the opposing team. Though dangerous, Las Bolas de Fuego has been running for more than 100 years now and falls among the top unusual festivals worldwide.
Cheung Chau Bun Festival , Hong Kong
The Bun Festival is the biggest and busiest event in Cheung Chau. What originally started as a celebration for the end of the plague on the island has transformed into one of the popular cultural events today. The festival runs for almost a week housing a vibrant yet traditional parade along with the famous Bun Scrambling Competition - where the participants conquer a massive 60-feet bamboo tower covered with buns, trying to grab as many buns as possible. Record state that Kwok Kam Kee - the official bun supplier for the event makes more than 60,000 buns that are scaled by three trained men.
Underwater Music Festival, Florida
For all divers and music enthusiasts, Florida Keys Underwater Music Festival is the place to be. Bill Becker, founder, coordinator and music director of UMF took music festivals to a whole new level with the aim to create awareness for coral preservation. The quirky celebration held in July at Looe Key Reef has been running for more than 25 years welcoming hundreds of snorkelers. The event houses pre-selected radio playlists and ocean-themed songs streaming live from underwater speakers along with musician-divers and local artists playing whimsical instruments giving an absolute visual treat for all.
Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea
Get ready to splash some mud at Boryeong Mud Festival. Situated 200 kilometres from Seoul, the village of Boryeong is widely popular for its mud cosmetics. What began as marketing even in 1998 later turned into a renowned festival drawing in millions of visitors every year. While immersing yourself in mud can seem a bit odd, Boryeong’s mud stands out for its rich natural minerals and nutrients that have incredible benefits for the skin known worldwide. The annual festival held in July runs ten days straight housing a series of activities that will get you drenched in the mud such as mud pools, mudslides and mud skiing along with an array of makeover and massage facilities as well.
Lopburi Monkey Banquet, Thailand
Head down to experience the money madness at Lopburi Monkey Banquet, also known as Monkey Buffet Festival. With the aim to bring good luck to the area and its people, the Lopburi Province north of Bangkok prepares a grand feat comprising 4,000 kilograms of fruits, vegetables, cakes and candies that feed close to 2,000-3,000 macaque monkeys every year. The festival first occurred in 1989, run by a local businessman who thought of this unique way to pay gratitude to monkeys and also bring in tourism - luckily for him and the monkeys, it worked!
Up-Helly Aa, Scotland
Up-Helly Aa is a fire festival typically held every year between January to March among various communities in Shetland, Scotland that marks the end of the Yule season. Shetland boasts of its Norse connection and celebrates Viking culture by parading down the cobblestones, blazing torches held up high, as they make their way through the dark streets. The Festival that began in the 1880s draws thousands of locals and tourists alike to honour the rich heritage for the world to see.
World Bodypainting Festival, Austria
This isn’t your typical animal face and butterfly body paintings that you see during birthday birthdays. Austria’s World Bodypainting Festival brings in the best of best from over 40 countries who will battle for awards in body and face painting competition. The participants use faces and torsos as canvases to create their masterpiece with special effect make-up, UV effects and lots more. The festival also gives a platform for all art enthusiasts to partake in various exhibitions, workshops and demos, or even attend the Body Circus - an event where guests get to dress in the wackiest outfits comprising body paint, masks and extreme make-up looks.
World El Colacho, Spain
Baby Jumping Festival falls right up your alley among the top unusual festivals around the world. The festival takes place annually to celebrate the Catholic feast of Corpus Christi. During the El Salto del Colacho (Devil’s Jump), men dressed as the Devil wear red and yellow suits holding whips and oversized castanets to jump over babies who lie on the mattresses in the street. The 1600s cultural festival is believed to ward off evil spirits, ensuring a safe passage through life. Though it was originally only a local custom, people from around the region have started bringing their babies to be blessed in this unusual ritual in recent years.
International Hair Freezing Contest, Canada
Winters in the North are extremely harsh that you wouldn’t imagine stepping outside without headwear in case your hair freezes! Yet Canada has managed to dedicate an entire festival to creating the most bizarre frozen hair sculptures. Every year, the town of Whitehorse, Yukon holds the International Hair Freezing Contest. The annual competition involves contestants soaking their head in the water, and when lifted the cold temperatures outside will slowly start to sculpt icy coiffures. This unusual festival is held in February and the winners are announced in March.
Water Gun Festival, South Korea
The Water Gun Festival in the Sinchon district of Seoul, South Korea will take your summer spirits to a whole new level. The festival that originated with the purpose to beat the heat has now transformed into one of the most popular summer festivals in the city! Participants get to engage in a series of water battle activities along with witnessing an array of special events including power-packed music performances, street dancing and lots more making it the ultimate place to visit with your family and friends to party the hot summer away.
Kanamara Matsuri, Japan
With phallus as the central theme of the event, the Kanamara Matsuri also known as the Penis Festival honours the male sexual organ with decorations, candy, toys, clothing and carved vegetables. But this is much more than just a festival of penises. Originating at the Kanayama Shrine, where locals go to pray for everything from fertility, safe childbirth, a happy marriage and even protection from venereal diseases - the celebration attracts both tourists and residents alike raking in gobs of money every year that is dedicated towards HIV research.
Running of the Bulls, Pamplona
Pamplona's famous running of bulls which takes place during the San Fermin festival is one of the most extreme adrenaline-pumping events held in Spain! Taking place in July of every year, this experience welcomes hundreds of thrill-seekers from all over the world to run in front of six wild powerful bulls (plus six steers) through the city’s old and narrow streets. In the mornings, the bull runs and in the evening visitors get to witness bullfights. The rest of the time involves food, drinks and other engaging performances. Among all of Spain’s insane festivals, this by far is one of the most controversial yet popular events known worldwide.
Battle of the Oranges, Ivrea
Make your way to the UNESCO-listed Italian town of Ivera to witness a citrus battlefield where participants shoot 600,000 kgs of oranges at one another celebrating Shrove Tuesday - the city’s popular historic carnival. The battle aims at recreating the 12th-century combat between the locals and the Royal Napoleonic troops. The teams of aranceri (orange handlers) on foot hurl oranges (representing old weapons and stones) against aranceri riding in carts (representing the tyrant's ranks). This symbolic festival held in Italy marks one of the biggest food fights in the country, making its way to the top among the list of unusual festivals held around the world.
Air Guitar World Championship, Oulu
Every year, the world’s most skilled invisible instrument artists flock to Finland to perform for the Air Guitar World Championship. Participants gear up to play an imaginary rock or heavy metal-style electric guitar and are often coupled with loud singing and dancing. The one-of-a-kind festival which began in 1996 to promote world peace is today amongst the top battled competitions popular in Europe, Australia, USA, Japan, UK, Canada and New Zealand.
Cheese-Rolling Festival, England
Locals and tourists travel down to Cooper’s Hill situated in the South West England Gloucester region to watch the most unique competition of participants launching down the hill to chase a nine-pound round cheese. The first person to cross the finish line is the winner and gets to keep the cheese as their price. Initially, the goal of the festival was to catch the rolling cheese before it reaches the bottom however, the rules changed considering how quickly it gains speed which becomes difficult and dangerous for the players as well.
Día de los Muertos, Mexico
Day of the Dead Festival as the name implies is a day dedicated to those who have passed away. The traditional holiday held in Mexico during November carries a lot of visual similarities to Halloween. During this period, family and friends gather together to pray and remember the members who have died. It is believed that during this brief period the souls of the dead are awakened and return to earth to feast, drink and dance with their loved ones. In turn, the living family members treat the dead as honoured guests by making the deceased’s favourite food and offerings. It is seen as a day of celebration rather than mourning.
Busójárás, Mohács, Hungary
Busójárás is Hungary’s wildest festival. With a blend of pagan rituals, folk dancing and devilish masks, the rowdy carnival is held in the small town of Mohács to scare off the last days of winter. It is also seen as a celebration of the local Croatian minority. The festival re-enacts the 16th-century Battle of Mohacs where hundreds of busós (locals wearing scary-looking masks) arrive in rowboats to march their way through the streets in horse-drawn carriages. Apart from the main festival, there are many interactive themed activities to engage in along with plenty of spiced wine and pálinka (traditional fruit brandy) to fight against the harsh chilly climate.
Naki Sumo, Japan
Making a baby cry is probably the worst thing you can do, however, Japan is here to prove you wrong. Naki Sumo is a 400-year old tradition where you get to witness an entire event based on grown men’s ability to make babies cry! The festival takes place at Sensoji Temple every year in April, where babies are paired up with a sumo wrestler who will then try to make the little ones cry. The rules are simple; whoever makes one of the babies cry first, wins. Traditionally it is believed that a crying baby has the power to ward off evil spirits and a strong, loud cry implies the child will grow strong and healthy. Though the viewers seem to enjoy this event, the unusual festival clearly takes a harsh toll on infants.
Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri, Japan
Up to 10,000 men take part in the famous festival of Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri in the hope of gaining good luck for the entire year! Participants wear a minimum amount of clothing, usually just a fundoshi loincloth to flight and eventually grab one of the two sacred Shingi sticks tossed by the priest. The festival is held in dozens of places throughout Japan every year - usually in the summer or winter. However, the most famous one is the Saidai-ji Eyo Hadaka Matsuri organised in Okayama which originated over 500 years ago.
CWorld Toe Wrestling Championship, Ashbourne
The list of the most unusual festivals in the world will not be complete without mentioning the World Toe Wrestling Championship. Held every year in Ashbourne, UK - the competition welcomes the best toe wrestles from all over the world to battle against one another for the title! The sport involves two opponents who lock feet in an attempt to pin each other’s foot down in the least time possible, similar to arm wrestling. There are three rounds played on a best of 2 out of 3 bases. Rounds kickstart with the right foot, then left and followed by right again if necessary.
Blow away by these bizarre festivals? Let us know about the most unusual festivals you've come across in the comments below.