Nothing says spiritual purity like wrapping barbed wire around your body and then jogging in procession through five miles of firecrackers and smoke bombs. Indeed. After all, that’s what the holidays are all about. A time for expressing thanks, giving in to selfless devotion, throwing goats off of bell towers, beating the hell out of your neighbors and decapitating geese. Right? No? Well it is in some places, and that’s one of the glorious things about international travel: being witness to some of the most bizarre (read: bloody) festivals that punctuate the earth’s landscape thanks to tradition, religion and senility. Get your calendars out, your Ultimatesafe on, and start planning your next trip, because below we’re highlighting five must-see festivals for spellbinding and awe-inspiring bewilderment.
The Festival of St. Vincent takes place on the fourth Sunday of every January when, to celebrate their patron saint Vincent, the good people of Manganeses de la Polvorosa round up a disastrously unfortunate goat, carry it to the top of the bell tower at the local church and then – you guessed it – throw it off. One could argue that the festival is defined by drunk assholes who get a kick out terrorizing animals, but that would be both culturally insensitive and would ignore the fact that villagers stand at the bottom with blankets and attempt to catch the animal. It’s unsure how this tradition began, but some point to a story of an 18th century priest who would milk a goat for the needy, but upon hearing the ringing bells, the terrified goat leaped from the tower.
The Tinku Festival, otherwise known as “Punch Your Neighbor In the Face Day,” is a quaint little tradition that takes place in Potosi and Macha, Bolivia. Every May, the gentle people of the Bolivian Andes trickle down to Potosi/Macha to form a mob of thousands and then proceed to beat the living hell out of each other. The Tinku Festivals aren’t just about having a lively, fun-loving brawl. It’s a religious festival taken from pre-Hispanic times whereby the earth Goddess Pachamama ensures a good harvest by demanding blood. The more blood there is, the better the harvest. There used to be frequent deaths, but nowadays it’s (lightly) policed, where fights are at least attempted to be kept to one-on-one and are stopped at first blood.
The Vegetarian Festival of Phuket Town in Thailand is held over a nine-day period in late-September/early-October. It’s a Chinese ancestral festival (they make up a majority of the population in Phuket Town) that pays homage to the Nine Emperor Gods (Kiu Ong Iah) in the first nine days of the month (or thereabouts). The Chinese follow the tradition of refraining from drinking alcoholic drinks, engaging in sex, eating meat, quarreling, telling lies or killing. Instead they pierce their tongues, cheeks, and other body parts with sharp implements. By “implements” we mean anything from Samurai swords to AK47s to flower baskets. Ostensibly possessed by gods, the participants are said to feel no pain. Occasionally, however, “the spirit” leaves the occasional unworthy participants, who then immediately feels the pain, removes the implements and is forbidden to continue with the ceremony. It’s all performed in a dark cloud of smoke, as participants and bystanders alike set off more firecrackers than seen in the streets of Shanghai during Chinese New Year.
Antzar Eguna (Goose Day) takes place in Lekeitio, a town in the Basque region of Spain and is part of the festival of St. Antolin, but nobody really knows what purpose it serves. It involves a dead goose hanging from a rope in the middle of the town’s harbor and group of young and muscled Spaniards trying to decapitate it. The rules are such that contestants must attempt to behead the goose using only their arms and hands. If the contestant slips, he looses. If he succeeds in ripping the animal’s head from its body, he is the triumphant winner and becomes the center of attention.
August 31st every marks a perfectly sane and sensible celebration called Las Bolas de Fuego, or, “Fireball Festival.” When in 1922 an erupting volcano forced the evacuation of Nejapa, El Salvador, locals witnessed great balls of fire gushing out of the volcano. It was perceived that their patron saint, Jeronimo, was battling the devil for their protection. To celebrate the patron saint that saved them from a gruesome and fiery death, the people of Nejapa gather together and do their best to burn each other alive. I’d go into detail, but it’s best to watch it yourself:
By Bryan Schatz