From menstruation festivals and rubber duck championships to black culture celebrations, The Sherp discovered many interesting festivals this year!
While music festivals might be considered a norm today, cultural festivals and celebrations have been an important part of societies since time immemorial. Some of them are socially relevant, while some are so silly that their longevity has been the sole reason responsible in ingraining them to become a tradition. This year, we discovered a healthy mix of cultural festivals – from the truly weird to some extremely poignant. Here are our top picks.
1. Raja Parba Festival
Where: Orissa, India
Menstruation in India is a taboo subject, what with the existence of prejudices and practices against menstruating women. From disallowing them in temples, to rendering them untouchable for the first three days of a cycle, the biases are aplenty. But one peculiar festival in Orissa celebrates menstruation by likening it to the fertility of harvest, thereby making a metaphorical statement that rings true.
Raja Parba is essentially a festival of harvest held during four days in June, that inaugurates and welcomes a nourishing harvest through the year in Orissa. Under mythological terms, it is believed that the Mother Goddess Earth goes through three days of menstruation during the first three days of this festival, and by the fourth day is given a ceremonial bath. Now even though this may be a celebration, during the three days of Raja Parba ,women must adhere to traditional customs observed during menstruation. As per orthodox Hindu traditions, women must suspend all house work and not touch anyone else, which indicates the supposed ‘impurity’ of the female body. This acts as a paradoxical factor of a festival that supposedly ‘celebrates’ women.
2. The Montana Testicle Festival
Where: Montana, USA
In a world where subtlety is all but damned, exists the Montana Testicle Festival, because if there is anything worth celebrating in the world, it’s a pair of ball-sacks. Letting not humans walk away triumphantly, this festival celebrates the testes of animals too, which make regular reappearances in events like ‘The Ball Eating Contest’. While balls are the main focus of the festival, it also boasts of a wet t-shirt competition, live music, and many many people interested in a testicular experience. Oh, one thing though – this festival actually revolves around human testicles, and the food served – is mostly based on their ‘waste not, want not’ policy, which allows for all sorts of other animal testicles to feature in their menu during the five-day extravaganza!
(Source: The Montana Testicle Festival Web Page)
3. Hokkai Heso Matsuri: The Belly Button Festival
Where: Furano, Hokkaido
Hokkai Heso Matsuri was conceptualized to bring the good people of Furano together, or rather “to the middle”, very much like our underrated belly buttons. Revellers paint faces on their stomachs and hide their heads under giant hats, making colourful, bizarre and outlandish stomach-people who then perform their famous Belly Button Dance during the festival.
When you try and get past its strangeness, the festival does come across as incredibly artistic and vibrant, with the bellies proving to be able canvases to some visually stunning art. The emotive power of these dances seem invigorating too!
4. Tübingen Duck Race
Where: Tübingen, Germany
If you were to visit Tübingen, Germany in October, chances are you’d see thousands of ducks bobbing down river Necker, because this is what happens every year at the Tübingen Duck Race.
This may be Germany’s strangest festival, and that’s definitely saying something. Every year in the historic town of Tübingen, thousands of rubber ducks are freed from their bathtub constraints to take a trip down the waterway. And while it may seem light-hearted and fun (and weird), it’s a race that gets pretty competitive, and the owner of the winning duck gets €10,000 worth of prizes! Anyone who owns a rubber duck can participate in the festival, but you can also rent one for €3. Before the race begins, the names of the participants are written on the ducks and a metal weight is attached to the underside so they don’t flip over. The race begins when a truck drops the mass of ducks onto the flowing water, and they’re cheered on by the participants as they travel for 45 minutes from Alleenbrücke to Neckarbrücke.
5. Gurning World Championship
Where: Cumbria, UK
The British are a veritable mine of weirdness, but this festival might just take the cake. A gurn is a distorted facial expression, and gurning contests are actually a British rural tradition. But the Gurning World Championship at the Egremont Crab Fair in Cumbria is said to date all the way back to 1267, when the most gruesome effort was honoured and framed in a horse’s collar. King Henry III had just granted a Royal Charter for a weekly market and an annual fair to celebrate crab apple season. Gurning is said to have its history in crab apples too, and apparently became famous because people would grimace on eating the bitter fruit.
This contest is no joke, and the competition is pretty fierce. Contestants traditionally frame their faces with a horse collar – known as “gurnin’ through a braffin”, and obviously, the wackiest one wins. General trend seems to show that the elderly have an advantage, since they have skin that moves around more.
6. AFROPUNK Festival
Where: Brooklyn, USA
It’s been years since Martin Luther King Jr. led the walk that was a historical moment in America’s racial history. Despite that, black culture continues to be berated, if not downright disrespected even today. Celebrating that, instead, in the most glorious fashion is the AFROPUNK Festival held annually in Brooklyn.
AFROPUNK is not just a festival, it’s a community of like-minded, influential people of all backgrounds, who find expression in music, art, film, comedy, fashion and more. It began with the 2003 documentary that highlighted an Black presence in the American punk scene, and has been growing and branching out ever since. A punk sensibility is core to the entire community, with a DIY aesthetic and radical thought, placing it at “the epicenter of urban culture inspired by alternative music”. AFROPUNK is “a voice for the unwritten, unwelcome and unheard-of, redefining the urban experience”. The actual festival is a two day multicultural explosion in Commodore Park Brooklyn, New York City, and artists perform from all kinds of genres – some of them established and some new, experimental artists.
(Source: Dare Kumolu-Johnson | Afropunk Facebook)
Where: Newguay, UK
The only thing you’re expected to wear here is sun screen.
The Nudefest, now in its fifth year, is Newguay’s Naturist festival that takes place on July 5-12. For an entire week, nudists of all kind can shed their clothes and enjoy a plethora of immersive and diverse events at Newperran Holiday Park, unrestricted. Including band performances, stand up comedy acts, open bars and pools and more.
The festival prides itself in their versitality, claiming that ‘there’s something for everyone’ which sort of seems legit considering that they offer a wide range of activities including yoga, meet and greets, garden parties, talent shows, “Ibiza Disco Nights” or if you’re just not about that life, then you can either go skinny dipping or sun bathe while you enjoy a nice cocktail near the pool.
8. Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Where: Fuji, Japan
Every year, in the spring months of April and May, a part of the Fuji Five Lakes area is blanketed in blossoming shibazakura, in shades of pink, purple and white. Shibazakura, as ethereal as it looks, is simply a perennial of the family Polemoniaceae, and a species of phlox. This pink moss/phlox is native to North America and famous for the resemblance of its flowers to cherry blossoms. Over 800,000 stalks and six varieties of mountain phlox are seen at the festival annually, you can find out more about it here.
Tourists from all over the world visit the festival venue, south of Lake Motosuko, to take in this spectacular view. The festival updates weather and blooming conditions on their website regularly, so attendees can book resorts near the arena accordingly. Exceedingly picturesque, with pink landscapes as far as the eye can see and a backdrop of Mount Fuji, the Fuji Shibazakura Matsuri is very nature lover’s paradise, and a festival you don’t want to miss out on.