Old Weird Europe
June 3, 2008 10:53 AM   Subscribe

German newspaper Der Spiegel decided to take a look at Europe's oddest folk traditions and festivals. Perhaps you can have a metaphorical hard-on for the phallus festival of Tyrnavos, Greece. Maybe you're hungry for how a small Belgian town celebrates the practice of swallowing live fish. Or, alternately, you can look down on those bizarre practices... while chasing a giant wheel of cheese down a hill.

Or maybe you'd just rather celebrate the annual fireworks war of Chios or jump over a baby while wearing a silly costume.

Some of the festivals are recent inventions to boost tourism; others are relics of ancient paganism that survived Christianization. What are your favorites?
posted by huskerdont (20 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
The winner of each race -- there are heats for men, women and children -- gets to walk away with the cheese, a roughly 4 kilogram lump of Double Gloucester.

Oh, man, I so would have been into that when I was a kid.

Less so, now that my Invulnerability Shield seems to have evaporated.
posted by gurple at 11:03 AM on June 3, 2008

"Phallus-kissers are rewarded with ash-streaks on their face, which presumably absolves them from having to go through the procedure again, unless of course they would like to."

posted by ericb at 11:13 AM on June 3, 2008

With the village faithful called to worship by the majestic tolling of the church bells... dong! dong! dong!
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:54 AM on June 3, 2008

Jeffries, though, says that many think it could be an ancient tradition based on the summer solstice -- with the wheel of cheese being a symbol of the sun. Some claim it originated in Roman times.

"Hey Claudius? You bored? Check this out. I'll bet you two ounces of salt that those starving English dogs will chase this wheel of rotten cheese down that cliff."
posted by loquacious at 12:31 PM on June 3, 2008 [8 favorites]

I like our yearly festivities of Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas) who threatens to take away naughty kids to Madrid in a burlap sack when he arrives over our roofs, like Wodan. And his black helpers who have whips made out of twigs to chastize the kids and who wear spanish 17th century court attire.
I do wonder whether it's a bit racist though.

Btw dutchies and other people in the neighbourhood are welcome at the Amsterdam meetup june 20th. Meet Mutant and Meatbomb.

Feel free to ignore my I do wonder whether it's a bit racist troll. I'm just trying to draw attention to the Dutch meetup. Zwarte piet and racism has been discussed to death on mefi. I might as well have mentioned fat people who maybe just eat too much or the cats that can't destroy my furniture since they've been declawed.
posted by jouke at 12:38 PM on June 3, 2008

I like our yearly festivities of Saint Nicolas (Sinterklaas) who threatens to take away naughty kids to Madrid

That doesn't seem fair to the nice kids.
posted by kittyprecious at 1:36 PM on June 3, 2008

Excuse me? What, pray tell, is so bizarre & odd about chasing wheels of cheese? I mean, really, if you saw a giant wheel of cheese roll by are you saying you would just stand there & watch it go? I don't think so, sir. No, I really don't.

In any case, there's alot of good clean fun to be had at the fiesta known as La Tomatina.
posted by jammy at 1:49 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Oh definitely the cheese chase for me.
posted by Mister_A at 1:58 PM on June 3, 2008

I was in a live goldfish eating contest once. Placed second.

The experience was...odd.
posted by Samizdata at 2:28 PM on June 3, 2008

In Australia, they race cane toads.
posted by turgid dahlia at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2008

In Moldova, they live in Moldova.
posted by pracowity at 3:18 PM on June 3, 2008

In Japan, they have the Kanamara Matsuri (Festival of the Steel Phallus).
Pics | Vid
posted by sluglicker at 3:54 PM on June 3, 2008

My town (Bury, UK) hosts the world championship black pudding throwing competition every year. Black pudding, in case you didn't know, is basically a sausage made of pig's blood (very tasty it is too).
posted by idiomatika at 4:02 PM on June 3, 2008

Double Gloucester? I could chase that cheese. I mean, it's not Wendsleydale...but still.
posted by dejah420 at 4:39 PM on June 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have a friend that invited me to last years Ottery St Mary Tar Barrel Festival but I didn't go.

Three people had to be treated in hospital - one suffering from burns and the others with broken ankles.

Three more were hurt when the crowd surged to avoid a rolling barrel and forced a brick wall to collapse.

The pictures are really hot.
posted by Sailormom at 4:44 PM on June 3, 2008

'bout cheese-chasing, the small town I recently moved to has this beautiful walk along a small creek, where the elderly idly gather on sundays to play the "rulla", an ancient local game which involves wrapping a long fabric or leather strap (about 10ft) around a (well cured and hardened) wheel of cheese (now they're also made in wood for the purpose of the game) more or less like this one (about 5 to 8 lbs), and throwing it along the trail (the release from the strap gives a crazy spin to the cheese): the winner is who goes further with his cheese.

The best bit is actually the "warning: spinning cheese wheels" danger sign.
posted by _dario at 7:31 PM on June 3, 2008

You know, both cheese-wheel chasing and fireworks wars have the potential to be completely awesome traditions if the people participating took a few more safety precautions. Unfortunately, they are not being done because people like the traditions, but because people like Tradition. They'd never be willing to compromise by shooting rockets at targets that aren't near people's homes or chasing a wheel of cheese down a hill in one of those giant inflatable hamster balls.
posted by ErWenn at 9:43 PM on June 3, 2008

The article says the fish-swallowing town of Geraardsbergen, Belgium, is in the northeast of Belgium. Since I go to that area, I wondered exactly where. Maporama shows it SW of Brussels.
posted by Goofyy at 11:20 PM on June 3, 2008

As I've pointed here before, tradition is stupidity with a pedigree. Of course, it can be AWESOME stupidity...
posted by Skeptic at 6:13 AM on June 4, 2008

I've attended the Basque festival where people hang off a goose a couple of times. The article is incorrect in that the goose is dead, not alive. I don't know if that makes the tradition any less weird. Here's a video (please excuse the self-link).
posted by kalimotxero at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2008

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