Of the many unusual rites that exist on Earth, you may have heard of Songkran, a Thai New Year celebration that takes the form of a giant water fight, or Holi, a Hindu festival where people douse each other in coloured powder. But what about the more obscure festivities? While we prepare for Chinese New Year in Singapore, here are five larger-than-life, stranger-than-fiction traditions that are celebrated in different corners of the world.
(Featured image: yurtopic)
#1 – The Baby Jumping Festival
It sounds ludicrous that people (and parents) would willingly risk the safety of defenseless newborn babes and have strange men leap over their tiny bodies. But this is what happens every June in Castrillo de Murcia, a secluded Spanish village, during the holy feast of Corpus Christi. A lesser known Catholic tradition that dates back to the early 17th century, the Baby Jumping Festival (also known as El Colacho, or El Salto del Colacho, meaning the devil’s jump) is a cleansing ritual that purges children born in the last 12 months of sin.
Instead of the usual infant baptism, the uncommon ceremony sees a number of tots placed on mattresses laid out a few metres apart from each other on the street. Then enters the masked men in yellow suits. Armed with scourges, these devil incarnates dart towards onlookers in an attempt to whip them, before capering down the street, and barrelling across the infants in a crazed, fiendish manner. The locals believe that during the jump, the evil spirit will leave the soul of the child, and follow the surrogate of Satan. Once they’ve been purified, the babies are finally showered with a confetti of rose petals.
(Photo: Pictures Collections)
#2 – The Baby Crying Festival
Another tradition involving demons and babies is Konaki Sumo. No less gentle on the little ones, the ancient annual affair is performed in various temples and shrines in Japan in different months. Tokyo’s Sensoji Temple, for instance, is among the more popular destinations. During the event, a pair of infants, carried by sumo wrestlers, take the stage each time. No physical exertion is needed in this contest to elicit a weep, only macabre masks and, to put it nicely, “verbal reinforcement”.
The first to cry wins – or the loudest, in the event that both babies start simultaneously. According to a traditional myth, the shriek of a newborn child has the power to repel demons, thus making these tiny tots a most unlikely, yet potent weapon against harm. The ritual is also associated with a Japanese proverb that translates to “crying babies grow fat”, promising good health and longevity for wailing children.
(Photo: The Atlantic)
#3 – The Naked Festival
Japan is also home to the strange custom of stripping down to one’s underwear for good luck. To be more specific, Okayama’s Saidaiji Temple hosts a ceremony every year, where throngs of men wearing nothing but a piece of cloth around their hips gather together. Welcome to the Hadaka Matsuri. Held on the third Saturday of February, the festival has been around for more than half a millennium.
Before the main event, each individual fills up a form with their personal information (name, blood type, and emergency contact), and inserts the paper into their garment. Then, congregated in the temple, they wait for the priest to toss a wooden talisman into the crowd at midnight. Tradition says the man that catches the stick (“shingi”), and plunges it into a wooden box (“masu”) filled with rice will enjoy a year of happiness.
#4 – The Kirkpinar Oil Wrestling Festival
This odd tournament in Turkey originates from a historical tale of a scuffle between two Ottoman soldiers. To up the ante, the Sultan decided to award the winner with a pair of leather pants. Needless to say, the fight got increasingly aggressive until both were found dead the morning after. After burying them beneath a fig tree, the other soldiers continued on. Eventually, they stumbled upon another fig tree in a pasture named Kirkpinar, on which they remembered the deceased duo by staging a fight in their honour.
And thus from 1346, this tradition became a yearly sports competition – the oldest one in history. These days, they battle half naked in leather bottoms with their bodies slathered in olive oil, historically used as an insect repellant. Once a wrestler’s successfully pinned down his opponent or raised him over his head, the victor delivers a kiss to the other to demonstrate humility and honesty.
(Photo: Your World Calendar)
#5 – The Battle of the Oranges
For most, February marks a month of love and romance. But for the people of Ivrea, a little town in Italy, it is time for an epic food fight – one that uses just oranges. While it sounds like a world of fun that’s utterly unruly, the unparalleled carnival is surprisingly structured. For one, spectators who do not wish to be dirtied wear red hats. The rest are separated into two teams – one rides in carriages (representing royal guards), while the other stays on land (representing ordinary folk). More than a meaningless act of merriment, it’s in fact a reenactment of an uprising against dictatorship in the Middle Ages.