Onbashira – Japan’s Riskiest Celebration

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Held every six years, in the Nagano area of Japan, Onbashira Festival is believed to have continued uninterruptedly, for the last 1200 years.

Onbashira, literally translated as “the sacred pillars”, is a Japanese tradition that symbolizes the renewal of Suwa Grand Shrine. It consists of two phases: Yamadashi and Satobiki, the first held in April, and the second in May. Before Onbashira begins, 16 tree trunks, cut form 200-year-old Japanese fir trees are cut down. Each tree can be up to 1 meter across, 16 meters tall and weigh up to 12 tons.

Yamadashi is translated as “coming out of the mountains” and is the most popular part of the festival. Teams of men have to drag the logs down the mountain, to Suwa Shrine. At some points they encounter steep slopes where they must slide the tree trunks. In a ceremony called Ki-otoshi, brave young men risk their lives by climbing on the trunks and riding the all the way down the muddy slopes. It takes 3 days to move the sacred tree trunks, over 10 kilometers, to the shrine.

Satobiki involves placing the logs at the four corners of the four buildings that make up Suwa Grand Shrine. Using ropes, teams have to pull up the giant tree trunks in a vertical position, with young men sitting on them. Those still on the logs after they are positioned, perform all sort of feats.

On Sunday, during the 2010 edition of Onbashira Festival, a man was crushed to death by a tree trunk, during Satobiki. One of the ropes came loose and hit the 38-year-old man in the head. Several others were injured in the accident.

Photos via Daylife

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Bolivia’s Day of the Skulls

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Dia de los Natitas (Day of the Skulls) is an ancient Bolivian ritual where skulls are decorated with flowers and pampered with cigarettes, coca leaves and other treats.

Every November 9, the central cemetery, in La Paz, Bolivia, becomes the scene of a bizarre pre-Columbian tradition, known as Dia de los Natitas.  Women carrying skulls, in decorated wooden or cardboard boxes, fancy glass cases and even in plastic bags, gather outside the cemetery to show off their skulls. They are usually decorated with flower petals (hydrangeas and roses) and covered with knitted colorful caps.

Some Bolivians believe a person has seven souls, and one of them remains in the skeleton, after they’ve been buried. Once the other souls have left for heaven, the remains are dug up and the skull taken home and cared for. If they’re not respected, skulls can bring bad luck to a household, ruin the harvest and even break up a family. But if they’re properly taken care of, you can ask the skull for favors.

A big part of caring for the skull is represented by the Dia de Las Natitas celebration. Skulls are offered cigarettes, coca leaves, alcohol and are even serenaded by street musicians.

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Pig Beauty Contest Held in China

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The Pig Contest of Guanshan Village, Guangdong Province, China, is a centuries old tradition dating back to the Qing Dinasty.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists, from all over China, travel to Guanshan, every year, to take a look at the hundreds of pigs on display at the Pig Contest. This year, around 500 oinkers were sacrificed, cleaned up and set on display to be admired by passers-by.

After the most handsome pig is allected, the festivities end in a gargantuan feast, when the tasty participants are sliced up and served to the public.

Photos via Xinhua

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China’s Lantern-Covered Building

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To welcome the Lantern Festival that marks the end of the Chinese Lunar Year festivities, authorities have covered an entire building in brightly colored paper lanterns. Around 2,000 traditional lanterns were used to cover the facade.

The Lantern Festival is one of China’s most important celebrations, and this year it will be celebrated on February 28.

via ImagineChina

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The 2010 Lemon Festival of Menton

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Each year, the French town of Menton hosts an event unique in the world, La Fete de Citron, or the Lemon Festival.

This year’s 77th edition of the Menton Lemon Festival takes place between February 12 and March 3 and has the theme “Menton does cinema”. The second most important festival on the French Riviera, after the Carnival of Nice and just before the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Monaco, The Lemon Festival draws in a crowd of over 230,000 people.

The lemons grown in the Menton area are favored by the world’s star chefs, for their distinct flavor and superior sugar content. The French town enjoys a sub-tropical climate,sheltered by a nearby mountain chain.

Back in the 1930s, locals used to celebrate by parading a few carts loaded wit orange and lemon trees, but throughout the years, the festivities turned into an international carnival. Over 300 professionals work on arranging around 145 tons of citrus fruits as giant sculptures.

Photos via CCTV

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St. Anthony’s Feast – A Fiery Celebration

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Every year on January 17,the people of San Bartolome de Pinares celebrate St. Anthony by riding their horses, donkeys and mules through piles of burning tree branches.

The unique tradition of leaping over and through flames dates back 500 years, but the men and women of San Bartolome de Pinares still celebrate it religiously. They gather all the branches they find in the days leading up to the festivities, and when dusk falls on the eve of Saint Anthony’s, they light them ablaze. Riders lead their mounts through the burning piles of the village, accompanied by sounds of drums and Spanish bagpipes.

Jumping through the flames is said to bring the animals the protection of St. Anthony Abad, acknowledged as the patron of domestic animals, ever since the Middle-Ages. Locals believe the fire purifies their animals and protects them against illnesses, all year long.

Animal rights activists don’t buy the whole purification deal, but in a country like Spain, where traditions like bullfighting, Shearing of the Beasts or Day of the Geese, they don’t have too many hopes of putting an end to it. Plus, the owners say their animals remain unharmed…

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Mass Ice-Fishing at Hwacheon Ice Festival

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Each winter, Hwacheon county, in South-Korea, draws-in over one million people to the Hwacheon Sancheoneo ice festival, held on a frozen river.

Hwacheon Festival hosts sledding, ice-soccer and snowman-building events, but the highlight of the event is the ice-fishing for fresh mountain trout. Under the thick ice, abundant quantities of fish are waiting for skilled fishermen. Anyone can try their luck at catching trout, at one of the nine thousand holes drilled in the icy surface of the river.

You might want to change your seat regularly, as the fish tend to move from one place to another, quite frequently. Once you catch a fish, you can take it to one of the mane cooking centers scattered on the festival grounds. There you can have it prepare raw or grilled. Any way you choose to prepare it, the Sancheoneo fish will melt in your mouth.

Another fun event at the Hwacheon Festival is catching the trout with your bare hands. Just slip in a pool of ice-cold water and try to grab the slippery critters.

Photos by Reuters via Drugoi

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The Buffalo Fighting Festival of Do Son

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The Buffalo Fighting Festival is held annually, on the northern coast of Vietnam and draws huge crowds, eager to see a display of violence.

Buffalo owners train the peaceful creatures and even pray on the night before the festival, to ensure their beast is victorious. To the crowd’s disappointment the animals often do nothing more than look at each other and go about their business. On rare  occasions they cros their scythe like horns and push each other like sumo wrestlers.

The victorious buffalo is cheered by thousands of people, while its owner displays it for all to see and collects a prize of 40 million dong. But the winner has little time to enjoy his success, as both buffalos are sacrificed and their meat offered to the spectators. The owners are allowed to take a keepsake, like the animal’s head.

Photos by AFP/GETTY IMAGES

via Telegraph.co.uk

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The Grape Fight of Binissalem

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One of the most fun events of September took place in the village of Benissalem, on the island of Majorca, during Fiesta of La Vermada.

Over one thousand people, both locals and tourists, gathered in Binissalem, a village known for the quality of its wines, for what may have been the biggest grape fight in the world. Every year, at the end of September, the people of Binissalem organize a fiesta, to  celebrate a successful grape harvest. The highlight of Fiesta of La Vermada is the  grape fight that attracts people from all over the world, just like La Tomatina festival, held in Bunol, Spain.

The grape fighters gather in Plaza de l’Esglesia, in the center of the village and wait for a rocket to be fired. Once that happens everyone stampedes into a field outside Binissalem and a human circle is formed around a huge pile of grapes. When the whistle blows, the madness begins and grapes start flying.

Photos by Reuters, via Chinadaily

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Buffalo-Riding Ceremony in Cambodia

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The Buffalo-Riding Ceremony is held every year, in the Cambodian village of Virhear Sour, Kandal province. The tradition of this even goes back 70 years and it marks the end of the Festival of the Dead. It is also a way to honor the Neakta Preah Srok pagoda spirit.

After the race is over, the buffaloes are auctioned off to the highest bidders.

Photos by Reuters

via People.com.cn

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The Hog Parade of Malolos

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Dozens of pigs wearing make-up and funny costumes are displayed through the streets of Malolos, during the Hog Parade.

Highlighting a week-long food festival in the Philippines, the Hog Parade took place on September 12, in the town of Malolos, Bulacan province. The tasty protagonists were dressed as Superman, Popeye, clowns, queens and even brides.

After the fun Hog Parade, the people of Malolos feasted on some free roasted pig, offered by the local authorities. Malolos is the main supplier of pigs in the Philippines.

Photos by Erik de Castro/REUTERS

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Bous a la Mar Festival, in Denia, Spain

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Spanish people really have a thing for bulls, don’t they. Bullfighting, the festival of Pamplona, they’re all centered around the bull.

During the Bous a la Mar Festival, in Denia, near the city of Alicante, people get chased by bulls through the streets and into the Mediterranean Sea. The brave participants plunge into the waters just before the bulls are about to catch them. The animals often fall into the sea as well, where they are taunted some more. Eventually, the bulls are caught with a lasso and towed back to shore by a boat.

via Telegraph.co.uk

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La Tomatina – Biggest Food Fight in Colombia

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What started as La Tomatina of Bunol, Spain, is now also a popular celebration in Sutamarchan, Colombia and even Dongguan, China.

On June 14, locals of Sutamarchan and many tourists gathered on an old football field to stage Colombia’s biggest food fight of the year. Around 15 tons of tomatoes were sacrificed in La Tomatina this year. The food fight, inspired by the much more famous Tomatina of Bunol, is part of a three day tomato celebration. A tomato-eating contest and a competition for the largest tomato, are also part of the celebration.

via Telegraph.co.uk

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Harbin Snow Sculpture Festival

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I have to be honest and start by saying I’m a huge fan of winter and all that it implies, snow, ice, cold weather, the whole enchilada, so I guess I was a little subjective in picking this piece over others. But even you sun worshipers have to admit that these snow sculptures, especially the castles are simply amazing.

These were all sculpted in blocks of snow and ice, during the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, in China by the most talented sculptures in the world. The festival dates back to 1963 and is one of the four largest ice and snow festivals, along with along with Japan’s Sapporo Snow Festival, Canada’s Quebec City Winter Carnival, and Norway’s Ski Festival.

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Japanese mud festival

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Hundreds of Japanese grown-men wrestle each other in the mud water of Mimusubi shrine in Yotsukaido, a settlement near Tokyo. Every year on February 25 these men take part in this strange yet fun looking rite, believed to bring good harvest for the whole year

and good health for babies.

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