Next month, The Mall in London will host Britain’s biggest ever street party, with 10,000 turning up for a charity lunch to toast the Queen’s birthday. The first ever documented birthday celebration can be found in the Old Testament in honour a Pharaoh five thousand years ago, but it was the Romans who were the first to adopt the practice for regular members of society – well, half of them, for only males were honoured, but it was a start, at least. The Romans, too, are responsible for December Christmas celebrations, while in Iran, at around the same time of the year, the festival of Yalda, which commemorates the winter solstice, has also been observed since ancient times.
Humankind sure loves any excuse for a knees-up, so Verve brings you a rundown of some of the world’s most weird and wonderful celebrations from around the world.
Few celebrations are as joyous as ‘The Festival of Colours’, observed by Hindus – and now also others – across the globe. In honour of the onset of the season of spring, this two-day extravaganza incorporates music, singing, dancing, bonfires and, most famously, the throwing of colourful powder and water over fellow revellers. It’s at least 1,400-years-old, having been mentioned in the 7th century Sanskrit drama, Ratnaval.
It’s probably best not to don any designer wear for this rather messy get together either. Celebrated in the Spanish town of Buño, La Tomatina sees attendees pelt each other with tomatoes, in turn, turning the streets, and each other, a vibrant red. There are no ancient traditions behind this giant outdoor summer food fight–it was simply born in 1945 when locals began hurling fruit at each other during a public parade.
San Francisco Pride
This legendary festival, in celebration of the LGBT community, has existed in various guises since 1970. Now a two-day event, the largest of its kind in the USA, it boasts 200 parade contingents, 300 exhibitors and over 20 community-run stages and venues. Last year saw a record attendance top one million.
One of the most elegant celebrations on the list, observed in China during the full moon closest to the autumn equinox, this festival is most famously marked by the ethereal paper lanterns which are lit and released into the night sky. Moon cakes are also munched and the odd firework set off for this ancient event originally established in honour of the harvest.
Each year young males from the nomadic Wodaabe tribe – which heralds mainly from Niger – adorn themselves with ornaments and traditional face paint in order to perform to bag themselves a bride. Music and dancing takes place before women judges who then pick the winners as their husbands – even though many already have at least one. “You know, stealing wives is not an easy thing,” a tribesman tells National Geographic. “You steal a woman from others and she will give sons to your lineage, even grandsons. Only the Wodaabe know how to do that.”
A celebration truly fit for a king, the world’s largest beer festival was born in October of 1810 to commemorate the marriage of Crown King Ludwig and Queen Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. Now each year in Munich, Germany, millions of revellers visit over a two-week period to take tipples from the iconic 16-ounce glass steins while gorging on smoked meat and sausage. Other activities include carnival rides and archery.
Dia de los Muertos
Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), marks a holiday in honour of the deceased which originated in Mexico and now observed throughout Latin America. Falling on All Saints Day (1 November), it blends Catholic and Aztec traditions, with the belief that the spirits of the dead rise to celebrate with their loved ones. Attendees dress in ghoulish costumes, most famously adored with calacas and calaveras (skeletons and skulls).
Up Helly Aa
Each year in celebration of Shetland’s Viking heritage, the Up Helly Aa finishes with the burning of a replica Norse ship. Among one of the oldest traditions in Scotland, not to mention one of Europe’s largest fire festivals, the day and night long celebration sees hundreds don ancient outfits, taking to the streets carrying blazing torches complete with raven-winged Viking helmets.
Monkey Buffet Festival
Taking the chimps’ tea party to a whole new level, the Monkey Buffet Festival is held in honour of the 2,000 long-tailed macaques who populate the Lopburi province to the north of Bangkok, Thailand. The beasts, believed to bring good fortune to the local townspeople, are given extravagant meals such as sticky rice, tropical fruit salad frozen in ice blocks and an egg-yolk dessert known as thong yod as a way of thanks.
Words by Jamie Christian Desplaces