Cheese rolling. Maypole dancing. Guy Fawkes’ Night. To us Brits, these are just some of the familiar national traditions that we’ve grown up with and come to accept as normal. To anybody outside of the UK, however, such customs no doubt all look absolutely mental.
In an increasingly globalised, homogenised world, many national traditions have managed to remain popular and, more often than not, localised. It’s why you’ve probably never heard of la mordida, or Antzar Eguna, or Catherinettes’ Day: as much as the Illuminati might try and make us all into mindless clones, they still haven’t taken away our love of ridiculous traditions that make no sense whatsoever outside of their countries of origin.
Here are 15 of the strangest traditions from around the world that you’ll no doubt scoff at, but then just imagine what they’d make of Morris dancing.
15. Kanamara Matsuri (Japan)
Pardon the pun, but we’re kicking things off with a big one. Every first Sunday in April, the Kanamara Matsuri festival in Kawasaki sees an oversized pink penis shrine being carried through the streets – don’t ask why, the legend involves a blacksmith, castration and a demon hiding inside a woman’s vagina – to offer divine protection to the locals.
14. La mordida (Mexico)
Mexican birthday traditions, for the most part, are pretty great; who wouldn’t enjoy getting to beat up a papier mache animal until it spits sweets as all the while a mariachi band plays in the background? However la mordida, or the practice of shoving the birthday boy/girl’s face into their cake, isn’t likely to catch on outside of Mexico with people who don’t want to get their heads kicked in.
13. Polterabend (Germany)
In Germany it’s said that “shards mean luck”, whatever that means, so the night before a couple is due to marry, wedding guests will gather before the bride’s house and appropriately smash some porcelain to bits. Guests will present dinner plates, vases, teapots – basically, anything smashable – before proceeding to show that porcelain who’s boss. A happy marriage should then ensue.
12. Baby teeth tossing (Greece)
No less strange than westerners leaving their baby teeth under the pillow so a tiny magical humanoid will come take them in exchange for coin, in Greece, children throw their teeth on the roof. They then make the wish that their adult teeth will be strong and healthy.
11. Pálení Carodějnic (Czech Republic)
Here in Britain, November is for burning an effigy of a man who failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament 400 years ago. And in the Czech Republic, April is for building gargantuan bonfires and throwing effigies of witches into the blaze. Everyone has a thing.
10. Day of the Geese (Spain)
Not content with just running in the streets from charging bulls or having epic tomato fights once a year, the people of Spain have another weirdly violent tradition they observe annually. Antzar Eguna, or the Day of the Geese, sees a greased-up goose suspended by a rope over Lekeitio harbour, which people sailing by jump out of their boat and attempt to decapitate.
9. Monkey buffet (Thailand)
In Thailand, a monkey buffet isn’t just something that Indiana Jones does when he’s visiting the Temple of Doom. The Monkey Buffet Festival is held annually in the city of Lopburi, and involves the locals leaving out mountains of fruit and vegetables for Lopburi’s population of 2,000 monkeys to eat free of charge.
8. Krampuslauf (Central Europe)
Krampus, or the repulsive and far less fun antithesis of Santa Claus, will in many Central European countries make an appearance alongside old St Nick each year around Christmastime. People will dress as the Krampus and, like a horrible mall Santa, chase children or hand out bundles of twigs as ‘gifts’, depending on the country.
7. Crying marriage (China)
In some parts of China, women get ready for their wedding day by crying for an entire month. These brides-to-be aren’t simply in mourning for their singledom, however. Since biblical times, it’s been expected in China that a woman should cry on her wedding day, so some Chinese women – especially the Tujia people of the Wuling Mountains – weep for a whole month prior as practice.
6. Drinking of the ashes (Yanomami tribe)
In Brazil and Venezuela, you have three options for how you want your physical body to leave this world: buried, cremated or drank. In the culture of the Amazonian Yanomami people, who live on the border between Brazil and Venezuela, it’s custom to leave the recently deceased in the forest where the flesh will be eaten, then burn the remaining bones and drink the ashes.
5. Cinnamon throwing (Denmark)
Consider this a warning if you’re 1) single and 2) looking to celebrate your 25th birthday in Denmark. Over in the land of Peter Schmeichel and bacon, singletons are pelted with cinnamon on the day they turn 25.
4. Catherinettes’ Day (France)
The single-shaming continues, this time over in France, where the custom is that 25-year-old women who make it to St Catherine’s Day (25 November) without getting hitched wear ostentatious headwear marking them out as filthy singles. These women are called Catherinettes.
3. Baby jumping (Spain)
The Spanish, reigning world champions of dangerous traditioning, every year practice something called El Salto del Colacho, or what translates to the terrifying-sounding devil’s jump, in the small town of Sasamon. It involves a man, dressed as the devil, jumping over babies to purportedly cleanse them of sin and ward off evil spirits.
2. Bayanihan (The Philippines)
Giving a whole new meaning to the words ‘moving house’, Bayanihan is the outrageous Filipino custom of lifting a family’s actual entire home out of the ground and moving it to a new location using wooden poles. For Bayanihan, everybody in the village helps out, in a show of true community spirit. The owners of the house follow up by serving food to the carriers.
1. Tooth filing ceremony (Indonesia)
If you thought going through adolescence in the west was bad, pity what the poor teenagers of Indonesia have to endure as a rite-of-passage. Worse even than suddenly breaking out in spots or developing an inexplicable interest in nu metal is the mepandes, a Balinese ceremony that takes place when a youngster reaches adolescence, and which involves the canine teeth and incisors being filed down to distance the dignified human from the savage animal.