If you are looking for a memorable experience on your next vacation, we’ve got you covered. Here are a few festivals that will definitely create a long-lasting memory.
1. Up Helly Aa
Up Helly Aa is a Viking Fire Festival which, really, should be all you need to know in order to want to attend it. It is held every year throughout the Shetland Islands in Scotland but if you want to see the biggest one it usually takes place in Lerwick. It doesn’t have a fixed date. It’s been going on since 1880 around the middle of winter, towards the end of January. The next one will take place on January 26th, 2016.
Since this is a Viking Fire festival, you can probably guess what is going to happen – people are going to dress up as Vikings and set things on fire. However, don’t expect to just show up and be handed a torch and helmet. The bulk of the work is done by guizers (professional actors) while the general public is usually left watching. However, if you happen to be part of a group of guizers, you can register your squad ahead of time to take part.
The biggest festivals can have up to 1,000 guizers all dressed up as Vikings and led by a head guizer called a Jarl (no Dragonborns, though). The Vikings form a procession though the town carrying torches, arrive at a galley and then set it on fire while singing a song. It’s nothing but good ol’ fashioned family fun. Afterwards the squads of Vikings separate and visit various locales like hotels and bars and wherever else parties are held. They sing, they dance, they perform skits and everyone has a great time.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about the various Oktoberfest spin-offs that take place all over the world. We are talking about the genuine article – the original Oktoberfest festival that’s been taking place in Munich, Germany ever since 1810 and, in the meantime, has become the largest funfair in the world. It takes place towards the end of November and lasts for 16 days (17 days on rare occasions). It is scheduled so that the festival ends on the first Sunday of October. During that time, over 6 million people attend.
So what do people do at Oktoberfest? Well, they drink beer…millions and millions of gallons of beer. If you don’t really like beer, Oktoberfest is definitely not the place for you. As we learned, though, Oktoberfest beer is actually a registered trademark and only a few select breweries are allowed to make it.
When people aren’t busy drinking copious amounts of beer, there is a ton of music, dancing, games and amusement rides to enjoy. There is also a lot of traditional Bavarian food to feast on. Hope you like sausages and roasted chicken.
3. Bay to Breakers
If you prefer a more active festival, why not try the Bay to Breakers footrace. It’s held in San Francisco on the third Sunday of May each year and it’s one of the largest footraces in the world, attracting up to 100,000 people.
The most appealing aspect of this event is that it’s really a race/party. You can take it about as seriously as you want. It’s a genuine endurance race. The course is almost 7.5 mi (12 km) long. However, it has become known for the propensity of many runners to wear wacky costumes during the run. You’ll find many superheroes on this track and, of course, the salmon. Each year some runners dress as salmon and run the course “upstream” (in the opposite direction) against everyone else.
If you are a keen marathon runner, you can give the race a genuine attempt and see how well you fare. The current record is 33 minutes 31 seconds for men and 38 minutes 7 seconds for women. However, if you just want to party, then the entire length of the course is basically just one giant party. There are bands playing music, people celebrating in the street and at the end there is the Finish Line Festival. Just don’t be surprised when you see a few streakers running past you.
4. Konaki Sumo
We’re not sure exactly how to categorize this one, but it’s definitely weird enough that you will want to see it just so you can say to your friends: “Hey, guess what I saw”. It is a festival involving sumo wrestlers and babies. That alone should grab your attention, but it gets weirder. The goal here is for the sumo wrestlers to take part in a contest while each is holding a baby. The winner is the one whose baby cries first.
Of course, a sumo wrestler could make a baby cry pretty fast just by flinging it at his opponent, but all he does is hold the babies. The priest/ref is more active as he shouts and waves at the babies to encourage them to cry. If both babies start crying at the same time, then it turns into a noise content where the one that cries loudest wins.
So why do they want to make babies cry? Well, because it’s a good thing, apparently. A baby who cries fast and loud is considered to be favored by the gods so, in essence, the whole thing is a baby blessing festival wrapped up in a very bizarre package. If you want to see one, though, you’ll have to head on over to Japan. The biggest festival takes place in April at the Sensoji Temple in Tokyo, but contests are organized in other places throughout the year.
5. La Tomatina
If you happen to find yourself in the Spanish town of Buñol in Valencia at the end of August, you might just be able to participate in the largest food fight in the world. Specifically, it is scheduled on the last Wednesday of August.
Around 40,000 to 50,000 people meet up in the streets of the town and fight…using tomatoes. Once the giant truck carrying the “ammo” arrives, it’s basically every man for himself. The rules are to use only tomatoes as weapons (nothing harder) and to squish them in your hands before you throw them to make them softer. Other than that, just be sure to wear clothes you don’t mind throwing away afterwards and to bring along goggles, if you have them.
Technically, there is also a giant soap-covered pole with a ham at the top and it must be climbed and someone has to claim the ham before the fighting can actually start. However, it was discovered that this took too long and people got impatient so this is purely optional now. There is a big after party when the chaos is done, as well as a week-long festival with music, dance and games before it.