15 Festive International Holidays the U.S. Should Adopt
Americans have a pretty terrific slate of national holidays, but if we could just add these special days, festivals, and events from abroad, the calendar would be even more delightful.
1. Bolludagur (Iceland)
Two days before Lent, they celebrate Bolludagur, or "Buns Day," by eating cream puffs or “buns” of all sizes, shapes, and fillings. Kids get an especially sweet deal. According to tradition, they're supposed to wake up before their parents and gently beat them awake with a homemade Bun Wand. They earn one cream puff for every blow they land.
2. Feast for Monkeys (Thailand)
In the Hindu epic the Ramayana, the hero Rama gives Thailand's province of Lopburi to the monkey king Hanuman. On the last Sunday of each November, all of Hanuman’s real-life monkey descendants get the royal treatment. Townspeople set up a feast of more than four tons of fruits, vegetables, and even sodas for the local macaques to enjoy.
3. Hadaka Matsuri (Japan)
Men demonstrate their masculinity in many ways, but no ritual makes it as tough as Japan's Hadaka Matsuri. The men aren't completely naked, but most strip down to loincloths on a cold February night to test their manhood and battle for future happiness. The night gets off to a freezing start when men purify themselves in fountains or the Yoshi River. Then they try to catch sacred batons thrown into the crowd by priests. Meanwhile, somewhere very cozy, we’re guessing the ladies are probably a little relieved that there's no Naked Woman Festival.
4. La Tomatina (Spain)
You don't have to fight for the right to food fight in Buñol, Spain. On the last Wednesday of every August, thousands of people gather for La Tomatina. The events starts out tame at 10 a.m. with a game of palo jabón, in which competitors climb slippery greased poles to get to ham at the top. Once the meat drops, the one-hour food fight is on. A shot is fired, and trucks from Extremadura bring in some 150,000 overripe tomatoes.
Don't think this is a red-splattered free-for-all—La Tomatina comes with rules. For starters, tomatoes are squashed to avoid injuries, and goggles and gloves are advised. No other projectiles, fruit or otherwise, are allowed. Participants must keep their shirts on. And once the second shot goes off, the food fight is over.
5. Ystävänpäivä (Finland)
Finland’s answer to V-Day is actually Y-day, and it's about celebrating friendship, not romance. Men and women give cards, gifts, and candy to their platonic life partners. No one feels left out or expresses curmudgeonly anti Y-Day sentiment. At least, we hope not.
6. Laskiainen (Finland)
Laskiainen is another Finnish tradition we're ready to start. Seven weeks before Easter, Finns fuel themselves with pea soup and buns filled with jams and cream. It's all downhill from there: men, women, and children spend the rest of the day sledding. Since the 1930s, Palo, Minnesota has celebrated Laskiainen with authentic music, food, crafts, and high-speed snow racing. What trailblazers!
7. Chinchilla Melon Festival
Many towns celebrate local crops, but they take it to another level Down Under. Every two years, Chinchilla—the Melon Capital of Australia—plans a giant four-day shindig with lots of juicy fun. Activities include archery that replaces the dart with a melon, a fruity slip and slide, and even melon skiing. Yes, skiing downhill wearing watermelons on your feet.
8. Keirō no Hi (Japan)
Japan’s Keirō no Hi, or Respect for the Aged Day, on every third Monday of September is devoted to honoring older folks... even if they're not your own grandparents. Volunteers prepare and deliver free meals, children perform songs and dances at special ceremonies, and the media spends the day highlighting elderly people doing amazing things in their twilight years.
9. Up-Helly-Aa (Scotland)
This Scottish holiday at the end of each December starts with themed costumes and hundreds of people bearing torches. They march and then set fire to a replica of a Viking ship to depict the rebirth of the sun. It's a cross between Halloween, a good old-fashioned bonfire, and an action movie.
10. The Anastenaria (Greece and Bulgaria)
Revelers in Northern Greece and Southern Bulgaria get fired up twice a year for the Anastenaria. The dancing celebrations, dedicated to Orthodox Christian figures Saint Constantine and Saint Helena, last for three days and culminate in fire walking. But don't worry—dancers say they don't feel a thing, thanks to the protection of the saints.
11. International Camel Derby & Festival (Kenya)
Horse races, trail rides, and rodeos are great and all, but camels make for a more wild ride. Since 1990, Maralal, Kenya has been the site of the International Camel Derby & Festival. The event attracts riders from all over the world and is surprisingly open to novices. Even without prior camel riding experience, you can hire a camel and a handler for the 10-kilometer (6.2 mile) Amateur race. More seasoned camel riders are eligible for the 42-kilometer (26.2 mile) Pro Elite race without a handler.
12. Nyepi Day (Indonesia)
People worldwide are encouraged to reflect on their past, present, and future at the dawn of a new year. On Bali's annual Nyepi Day, quiet contemplation is actually enforced. People are supposed to spend the Lunar New Year at home in silence—avoiding the distractions of electricity, food, TV, and radio. Security guards patrol the streets, ready to bust anyone they catch outside. Sounds relaxing ... for a little while, anyway. After Nyepi Day, Balinese people turn the volume way up with cleansing rituals, demon exorcism, effigy burning, carnivals, and even the Omed-Omedan kissing festival for teenagers.
13. Holi (India and Nepal)
Each spring, revelers in India, Nepal, and elsewhere start the celebration of the Hindu Festival of Colors the night before by lighting bonfires in honor of a boy named Prahlada from Hindu legend and his triumph over his evil aunt Holika, who tried to burn him in a fire. The next morning is a beautifully messy free-for-all with colored powder, water balloons, and live music. Holi is a time to make new friends, make amends with former ones, and believe in the power of good.
14. Race the Train (Wales)
Who needs a running buddy when you can just follow a train carrying all your supporters? In the annual Race the Train event in Tywyn, Wales, participants run alongside the tracks of the Talyllyn Railway to and from the village of Abergynolwyn. (Incidentally, these names are even harder to pronounce after you've run a few miles.) Runners cross all kinds of terrain, from country lanes to rough pastures, as the train's passengers cheer them on. And if things don't go so well, it can't be that hard to hop aboard on the second leg of the trip.
15. Takanakuy (Peru)
The holiday season can be stressful. Each Christmas, people from the Peruvian province of Chumbivilcas take their aggressions out on each other in a series of minute-long public brawls. Takanakuy, which translates to "when the blood is boiling" in Quechua, is open to men, women, children, and the elderly to address civil or private matters. Interestingly enough, most fighters use martial arts-style moves, instead of a good old knuckle sandwich. Once their altercation is over, they shake hands or hug it out and consider the issue resolved.