These festivals are a little more unusual, surreal, and occasionally downright dangerous
Festivals. Music, probably. Some sort of parade? Maybe. Eating and drinking? Almost certainly. These are the things you’d expect from a celebration in a town pretty much anywhere in the world. But we’ve discovered seven festivals that are a little more unusual, surreal, and occasionally more downright dangerous than you’d expect. Here we go…!
The Festival of Exploding Sledgehammers — San Juan de la Vega, Mexico
Right, let’s get one thing straight. This festival has, without doubt, the most badass name for any event, anywhere. And it’s not wrong: it does exactly what it says. Locals strap homemade bombs to the heads of sledgehammers and slam them into the ground. Explosions follow.
The festival is based on the patron saint of the town, cutely referred to locally as San Juantito. As in many cultures, he’s the basis of what’s commonly known now as a Robin Hood legend; namely that he took from the rich and gave to the poor. He got into a bit of a scrap with some local lawmakers at one point, and from here on the story just seems like an excuse to… well, strap some explosives to some sledgehammers. There’s no record of which side, if any, actually had exploding sledgehammers, but since when has realism ever got in the way of humans doing daft things?
Injuries do occur, of course. There’s the odd occasion where someone gets the amount of explosive wrong and is blown backwards in a cloud of dust and flailing limbs, but the main danger is shrapnel. In 2008, 50 people were injured by flying metal, but seeing as thousands show up to get involved, maybe you could just take your chances? It’s hammer time.
Rouketopolemos (Rocket War) — Vrontados, Greece
If you want a relaxing Easter, this Greek town of the island of Chios is the last place you want to find yourself. The town’s two churches, Angios Marcos and Panaghia Ereithiani are located on two hilltops around half a kilometre apart, and the object of Rouketopolemos, or Rocket War, is to aim fireworks at the bell tower of the opposing church. The church that scores the most direct hits on the opposite tower is declared the winner.
The tradition dates back to before the Ottoman Empire, when the “war” was fought with real cannon, until the Ottomans put an end to that nonsense. It’s controversial to this day though, as local houses and businesses have to be covered with protective metal sheets and mesh; fires have been started by wayward rockets in the past, leading, very occasionally, to fatalities.
Calcio Storico — Florence, Italy
“Too small to be a real war and too cruel to be a game” is how this sport was described by Henry III of France on a visit to Florence in 1574. Often cited as “the most violent sport in the world”, any game in which there is a specific ban on convicted criminals taking part is worthy of investigation.
Obviously, in Italy, football is basically a religion, but at the end of June each year, Florence’s Piazza Santa Croce is turned into a “football pitch” modelled on that of a 16th century sport known as the giuoco del calcio fiorentino, or the “Florentine kicking game”, which involves teams getting a ball into a goal.
Festival of the Steel Penis — Kawasaki, Japan
Of all the festivals on here, this has the most bizarre backstory / legend surrounding it. During the Edo period in Japan, so the story goes, a sharp-toothed demon fell in love with a human woman. The woman rejected him, saying she would marry the man she loved instead.
The furious demon crept up inside her vagina before their wedding night and, upon consummation of the marriage, bit off the groom’s penis. Undeterred, the woman remarried. Husband number two loses his penis in the same way. Read more