Top five… history’s oddest festivals

As the summer festival season gets underway, we take a look at the roots of some of the world's most extraordinary events...

Top five… history’s oddest festivals© Getty Images
1

Cheese Rolling

The first-known occasion on which Brits threw themselves down Cooper’s Hill, Gloucestershire, after a 7-8lb wheel of Double Gloucester was in 1826, but the event is widely thought to be far older than that. Local stories date back to the 1700s, and it may even have Pagan origins. During WWII rationing, there wasn’t enough cheese for the festival to go ahead. But the would-be fromage-followers weren’t going to let that stop them. They tumbled after a wooden wheel, instead.

Advertisement
2

Baby Jumping

Spain is famous for its out-there festivals – there’s goat-dropping, tomato-throwing, not to mention the bull run. But none come close to the annual baby-jumping festival, El Colacho, held in Castrillo de Murcia. Local men, dressed as devils, leap over rows of babies in a custom that supposedly dates back to the 1620s. This, according to tradition, cleanses the babies of original sin and ensures their safe passage through life.

3

Frozen Dead Guy Days

With coffin races and a hearse parade, this Colorado festival is pretty macabre. Its story begins in 1989, with the death of Norwegian-born Bredo ‘Grandpa’ Morstoel. His family cryogenically froze him at home, DIY-style. Which was odd, but fine – at least until the authorities found out in 1994. After initially wanting to bury Grandpa, the town relented, instead allowing him to stay frozen and inspiring this darkly comic festival.

4

The Night of the Radishes

The Noche de Rábanos is an annual radish-carving festival in Oaxaca, Mexico. Every 23 December, the humble red-and-white root is transformed into sculptures and celebrated – but, why? No one really knows for sure, but one story wins out in the hearts of the locals: in the 18th century, a couple of friars harvested a long-forgotten crop of oversized and misshapen veg. They looked so entertaining, the holy men took them to the Christmas market, where they inspired copy-cat carvers.

Advertisement
5

Cat Hurling

This cat-themed festival in Ypres, Belgium, culminates in the flinging of fake felines from a belfry. It is a modern nod to a gruesome practice that dates back to at least 1410: throwing live cats. While kitty torture was quite common at the time (it was thought mogs had supernatural connections), there is another possible origin. The custom may have been a semi-practical solution to an infestation of cats, which itself could have been the result of an influx of rats.

This article was first published in the June 2015 issue of History Revealed.