February 2, 2024 | Kaddy Gibson

The World’s Strangest Cultural Traditions

Strange Cultural Traditions Around The World

The unique traditions that we come up with are one of the most beautiful aspects of humanity, but some cultural customs are far stranger than others. 

If joining in on an unforgettably unique celebration sounds like a good time to you, then add some of these bizarre festivals to your travel list.

strangest cultural traditions

1. El Colacho, Spain

Originating in the north of Spain in the 17th century, El Colacho is a pagan-inspired Catholic ritual that is meant to cleanse the souls of babies. The event, which is also known as "baby jumping", occurs each year after the Feast of Corpus Christi. 

After a procession through town, babies are laid on a mat and men dressed as the devil jump over them like hurdles. Afterwards, priests cleanse the babies with holy water.

El Colacho Baby Jumping Festival, Spain - 2017Viaggio Routard, Flickr

2. Throwing Broken Dishes, Denmark

Every year, the people of Denmark save their broken dishes until New Year's. Then, to ring in the New Year, they throw the broken dishes at the homes of their family and friends. 

This bizarre, centuries-old tradition is meant to wish people good luck in the year ahead.

Bunch of broken China on the sidewalk in Winnipeg - 2018Rob Swystun, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

3. Satere Mawe Tribe Initiation, Brazil

One of the Satere Mawe tribe's strangest traditions is the coming-of-age ceremony for boys.

At 13, the boys harvest bullet ants, which are named for their incredibly painful sting. After incapacitating the ants with an herbal substance, they are woven into a pair of gloves with their stingers pointed inwards.

During the ceremony, the boys must wear the gloves for 10 minutes while performing a traditional dance. They must repeat the ritual 19 more times, so that the pain from the ant stings can prepare them to handle the pain of adulthood without showing weakness.

Macro bullet ant - paraponera clavataAndres Nunez Mora ,Shutterstock

4. Rumspringa, USA

The Amish are known for their simplistic, isolated lifestyles. Usually, they are forbidden from partaking in modern things, like technology and fashion, but when Amish teens turn 16, they get to go on Rumspringa.

Rumspringa is a time for the teens to explore the outside world and make the final decision on whether they want to return to a life in the Amish community.

Amish On The Way To School By Gadjoboy-CropGadjoboy, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

5. Monkey Buffet, Thailand

Each year on the last Sunday of November, the Phra Prang Sam Yot temple in Lopburi is host to a lavish buffet. The people believe that macaque monkeys in the region bring good luck, so to honor the animals, they are presented with piles of fruits and vegetables.

Lopburi Prang Sam Yot temple - 2015Mr.Peerapong Prasutr, CC BY-SA 4.0,Wikimedia Commons

6. The Thaipusam Festival – Malaysia and Singapore

Thaipusam is a Hindu festival that is celebrated in many parts of the world, but few places do it quite like Malaysia and Singapore. In these regions, the devotees, who are called "kavadi bearers" pierce themselves with hooks and skewers

The painful ritual puts them into a trace-like state and is believed to purify their souls.

Thaipusam a Hindu festival celebrated mostly by the Tamil community - 2010Peter Gronemann, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

7. Bun Festival – Hong Kong

Taking place on the eighth day of the fourth lunar month, the Bun Festival features a massive tower of sweet buns

People compete to climb the tower and grab as many buns as possible. This strange tradition is meant to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck to participants.

Cheung Chau Bun Festival - 2008怪貓 , CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

8. Famadihana – Madagascar

Famadihana, or "the turning of the bones", is an interesting funerary tradition that's mean to honor ancestors. Every five to seven years, people gather to exhume the remains of their loved ones and wrap the bones in new burial cloths. 

During the ceremony, people dance with the bones, sing songs, and share stories about the departed.

Dancing dead festival Madagascar - 2017Smarteeee, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

9. Krampus, The Czech Republic

For most places around the world, Christmas is a time of joy. But the Czech Republic embraces the darker side of the holiday with Krampus

During Christmas parades, the hideous monster can be seen following behind Santa Claus, threatening to punish children who were naughty.

The parade of masks demonic creatures, KRAMPUS Czech republic  2016Veronika Matejkova, Shutterstock

10. The Day Of The Dead, Mexico

The Day of the Dead, or "Dia de los Muertos" is a visually-striking celebration to honor departed loved ones. People create colorful altars decorated with flowers, candles, and their loved ones' favorite foods.

Day of the Dead Altar Mexico - 2014Tom Hilton, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

11. Polterabend, Germany

Before a couple gets married, their relatives all gather together to break things like plates and vases. Once the mess has been made, the couple is left to clean it up. 

It's a weird ritual but the meaning is heartfelt: it's meant to show the couple that they can rely on each other even when things get messy.

Broken plates outside - 2011Dickelbers, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

12. Spitting On The Bride, Greece

In many parts of the world, spitting on someone is considered one of the worst things you could do. In Greece, however, spitting on a newlywed bride is meant to ward off evil spirits. 

Nowadays, many guests just making spitting sounds.

Young rude handsome man standing in nature, spitting on the groundArtOfPhotos, Shutterstock

13. Soup Of Relatives' Bones, Venezuela

To help their loved ones find peace in the afterlife, the Yanomami tribe believe that they must make a soup out of the departed's bones

The soup is then eaten, so that the person's soul can stay protected even though their body has died.

Cooking on an open fire, Tonkololi District, Sierra Leone. - 2016WorldFish, Flickr

14. Baby Tossing, India

In the Indian state of Karnataka, babies are thrown from the roof of a temple to prove their parents' religious devotion and bless them with a prosperous life. 

Don't worry: the babies don't usually get injured as the people celebrating on the ground below are waiting to catch them with a big blanket.

Father throw up little kid son.ViDI Studio, Shutterstock

15. Brushing Your Teeth At Work, Brazil

It might sound strange, but there are practical benefits to this tradition. It's common to see Brazilians brushing their teeth at work after lunch. 

Many restaurants even provide mouthwash for customers to use after a meal.

Image of a woman brushing her teethyamasan0708, Shutterstock

16. Cemetery Hang-Outs, Denmark

The beauty of Danish cemeteries has made them a popular destination for tourists. Many cemeteries feature lakes and meadows for people to enjoy. Some even have bird sanctuaries on-site.

Assistants Cemetery in Copenhagen, Denmark - 2010Pedro Cambra, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

17. La Tomatina, Spain

Welcome to the world's biggest food fight. La Tomatina is said to have originated in 1945, when people who were excluded from the city's parade started a brawl using tomatoes from the vegetable stands at the market. 

Now, people attend the annual festival from around the world to throw tomatoes at each other.

Teens at La Tomatina Valencia region of Spain - 2010flydime, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

18. Breaking Coconuts On People's Heads, India

Originating hundreds of years ago in the south of India, this Hindu ritual is believed to bring prosperity. People gather in a temple and the priest smashes a coconut over the head of each person. 

This is believed to show the gods that they are wishing for success and good health.

Breaking a Coconut is a ritual of offerings to the God - 2009Bindaas Madhavi, Flickr

19. Hair-Freezing Contest, Canada

Every February, the Takhini Hot Pools in Yukon, Canada are host to weird, winter celebration. People dip their heads into the warm water from the hot polls and then expose their wet hair to freezing air. 

The goal is to shape a cool hairdo before it freezes solid.

International Hair Freezing Competition In CanadaTahkini Spring Pool, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

20. Throwing Cinnamon, Denmark

If you're an unmarried 25-year-old in Denmark, prepare to get a face full of cinnamon. On Valentine's Day, single 25-year-olds splash themselves with water and let their loved ones cover them in cinnamon. 

There's no deep meaning to this fun tradition, but it has been celebrated for hundred years.

Ground cinnamon in the spoon in the handPavlo Lys, Shutterstock

21. Festival Of Scrambled Eggs Festival, Bosnia

In the city of Zenica, Čimburijada, or "the festival of scrambled eggs", signals the beginning of Spring. People gather in the morning to cook scrambled eggs in gigantic cast-iron pans. The rest of the day is spent celebrating the change of seasons.

Festival Of Scrambled Eggs Russia - 2021ПФ Сметанино, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

22. Battle Of The Oranges, Italy

In the three days before Mardi Gras, the streets of Ivrea turn into a battleground. Dressed for battle and organized into nine squads, the residents throw oranges at each other and try to defeat each other's teams. 

It not quite as popular as La Tomatina, but it is the largest food fight in Italy.

Battle Of The Oranges Italy - 2013Gabriele F., CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

23. Finger Cutting, Indonesia

The women of the Dani tribe have an extreme way of confronting grief. 

When a loved one passes away, the woman cuts off the tip of her finger to symbolize the pain of losing that person and to keep their spirit away.

Hands of a woman from Dani tribe. Wamena. Indonesia.Olga Yarovenko, Shutterstock

24. Night Of The Radishes, Mexico

Noche de Los Rábanos, or "Night of the Radishes", is a festival that is held just before Christmas in Oaxaca. People carve intricate designs and sculptures into radishes. 

The radishes can grow up to three feet long and there's a competition for the best radish carving.

Noche de Rabanos in the city of Oaxaca, Mexico - 2014AlejandroLinaresGarcia, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

25. Witch-Burning Festival, Czech Republic

On April 30th, people in the Czech Republic gather to celebrate Čarodějnice. During this festival, straw dummies called "winter witches" are burned to get rid of winter and send evil witches away until the next year. Afterwards, people celebrate with dancing and roasted sausages.

Burning of the Witches at the Witches Night - Walpurgis NightPetr Bonek, Shutterstock

26. Groundhog Day, USA and Canada

Every February, people in North America wait to see if a groundhog name Punxsutawney Phil will see his shadow. 

According to this odd tradition, if the groundhog emerges from hibernation and sees his shadow, there'll be six more weeks of winter. If he doesn't see his shadow, spring is on the way.

Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney - 2013Anthony Quintano, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

27. Red Ink, South Korea

Using red ink is a big no-no in South Korea. Historically, red ink was only used when writing the names of the deceased in a family record. Writing the name of a living person in red ink was considered to be a sign of ill will towards them. 

Using red ink is still considered rude today, so avoid using it if you're ever in South Korea.

Closeup of an older man's hand loading red ink into a pen from a red ink bottle.Antonio Suarez Vega, Shutterstock

28. Hogmanay, Scotland

Hogmanay is the Scottish New Year's Eve. In Stonehaven's annual parade, people march down the streets swinging actual fireballs. This strange, exciting tradition dates back to the Viking age.

Torchlight Procession Hogmanay - 2008Edinburgh, Flickr

29. Shoving Faces In Cake, Mexico

La Morida is a peculiar birthday tradition. The person celebrating has their hands tied behind their back and as they go to take the first bit of cake, people shove their face into the dessert and shout "Mordida", meaning "take a bite".

Portrait unhappy good-looking birthday guy with cake on face showing thumb up.Masarik, Shutterstock

30. Cheese Rolling, England

Every May in the village of Brockworth, people gather to chase a wheel of cheese down a hill. A nine-pound wheel of Gloucester cheese rolling down a steep hill can pose dangers for competitors, but the festival remains incredibly popular.

Chester Cheese Rolling Competition 2008 Competitors In Chester, EnglandBrianP, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons


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