What could be better to do on a hot August day than chase an 11-pound wheel of cheese down a hill?
You could do just that at the Canadian Cheese Rolling Festival, held in mid-August for the past seven years in Whistler.
Cheese chasers gather at the top of a hill at the ski resort, someone lets loose the cheese, and then they are off, running, tripping, tumbling, to see who will be first to cross the finish line behind the cheese. There are prizes up for grabs, but clearly it’s the experience that counts, isn’t it?
The race – now billed as a Canadian tradition – actually came from an English festival that has been going on for centuries in Gloucestershire. Somehow that makes more sense: a bunch of British louts trying to catch runaway cheese.
This festival is among many traditions from all over the world where people try to mess with each other in strange and humorous ways.
Close to home, we have unusual events such as the oddly specific wiener dog races on Sam Steele Days. It’s not that wiener dogs are particularly athletic – though those who have watched the races will know they can move surprisingly quickly for their stature. It’s more about the hilarity of watching those stumpy little legs zip along as the dog seems to fly over the asphalt. It’s my favourite event at Sam Steele Days.
Then there’s the Windermere Fall Fair, which – at least last time I was there a few years ago – had a comical event called the Wife Carrying Race. Competitive couples would practise their hold for weeks in advance before the whistle sounded and they were off, men lugging their lady over their shoulders like a sack of potatoes, or in a less practical fireman’s grip. Elegant it is not, but great fun it is.
You can travel the world on a tour of strange festivals around the globe.
I would love to take part in Thailand’s Songkran Festival in April, where participants grab their super-soakers, buckets and even elephants to douse each other in the world’s biggest water fight.
Equally as fun would be South Korea’s Boryeong Mud Festival, where millions of festivalgoers flop around in mud and fling it at each other. Supposedly the mud does wonders for your skin. Getting it up your nose may not be quite as good for your health.
Speaking of flinging things, the small Alaskan town of Talkeetna likes to build wooden moose, climb into hot air balloons, and then let fly moose droppings onto the wooden moose below. Sounds like a good day to stay indoors.
Then there’s the kooky Tunarama in Australia, where competitors heft heavy tunas with a rope through their mouths and fling them as far as they can. It puts a new spin on flying fish.
Also putting food to bizarre use are the Mexicans, whose creepy sounding Night of the Radishes at Christmas time sees locals carve overgrown radishes into elaborate (and disturbing) shapes.
Back in England, this time in Devon, the townsfolk celebrate Guy Fawkes Night by lighting a barrel of tar on fire, hoisting it onto their shoulders, and carrying it through the streets. One beefy looking gent will hold onto the barrel until the heat and the weight gets too much, then he’ll pass it off to his mate, who will continue the relay. What a pointless display of machismo!
Then there are the festivals that are so famous they require little explanation – like La Tomatina in Spain, where thousands of smelly backpackers invade the town of Bunyol for a tradition that I’m sure the locals now wish they’d never started – flinging tomatoes at one another until the streets, the buildings, well, everything in the town, is stained red.
Or what about Holi, the Indian springtime festival where coloured powder is flung between participants to create a bright, colourful tableau.
The festival has inspired a typically North American spin-off – the Colour Me Rad 5K races that dot Canada and the U.S. Runners go through a five-kilometre course where they are periodically doused in coloured chalk to reward their athleticism.
And of course, there is the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, where each year runners are gored and bulls are put through a traumatic experience.
But the strangest festivals of all are those involving babies. In Japan each April, sumo wrestlers compete not by wrestling, as you might expect, but by holding babies and seeing how long it takes for the child to cry.
More disturbing is the Spanish festival of El Colacho in the village of Castrillo de Murcia. Any baby born in the past 12 months is placed on a mattress in the village square, and the macho guys of the area take turns jumping over them. What could possibly go wrong?
The moral of the story here is: whatever kind of strange tickles your fancy, there’s a place in the world where people gather to celebrate it. That’s quite a reassuring thought, after all.
Sally MacDonald is a reporter at the Cranbrook Daily Townsman.