As warm weather returns to much of the world, there are plenty of festivals and celebrations to enjoy this month. Here are a few events both domestic and far-flung, from music, film, flower, and barbecue festivals to the more offbeat.
1. TENNESSEE RENAISSANCE FESTIVAL // ARRINGTON, TENNESSEE
The annual Tennessee Renaissance Festival runs every weekend in May, when the purpose-built village of Covington Glen returns to 16th-century England. Every weekend you'll see exhibits, stage shows, castle tours, falconry, music, jousting, and special events for children. There will be theme weekends, too, including the Pirate Invasion Weekend May 21-22.
2. O. HENRY PUN-OFF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS // AUSTIN, TEXAS
The O. Henry Pun-Off World Championships will feature 64 competitors (chosen by random lottery from those who registered in April) trying to out-pun each other on May 7. The event is held outside, in the backyard of the O. Henry Museum in Austin, so you can bring a chair or a blanket and spend the day. There will be musical entertainment before the puns begin at noon. In addition to the competition, you’ll find a book sale, an auction, and refreshments to raise funds for the museum.
3. MILWAUKEE PUG FEST // FRANKLIN, WISCONSIN
Pug Hugs, Inc. is an organization that looks out for the welfare of pug dogs by sheltering and rehoming surrendered pugs and promoting ethical breeding techniques. Their annual Pug Fest will take place on Sunday, May 15 at the Milwaukee County Indoor Sports Complex. Pugs are welcome to enter the talent contest, the race, and the costume contest. Other events include auctions, entertainment, and a blessing of the pugs and their owners.
4. LITTLE NORWAY FESTIVAL // PETERSBURG, ALASKA
The town of Petersburg, Alaska, held their first Little Norway Festival in 1958. The festival is held on the third weekend of the month to coincide with the May 17 signing of Norway’s Constitution in 1814. This year, the festivities will run May 19-22. Residents dress up as Vikings, Valkyries, and in more contemporary but colorful traditional Norwegian dress. Events include dancing and drama, arts and crafts, classes in the Norwegian art of rosemaling, a parade, and traditional entertainment. The food encompasses Norwegian recipes, Alaskan Native dishes, and seafood.
5. FESTIVAL OF THE SNAKES // COCULLO, ITALY
The Feast of San Domenico in the Italian town of Cocullo is also known as the Festival of the Snakes (Festa dei Serpari). Cocullo is tiny, with a population of fewer than 300 people, but thousands turn out to see the San Domenico procession in early May. As they have for nearly a thousand years, villagers carry the statue of San Domenico, covered in snakes, from the church and through town.
San Domenico was a Benedictine monk who lived in the 10th and 11th centuries, and was said to be able to cure people of snake bites and rabies. For the annual procession, villagers capture nonvenomous snakes, and many of them are laid on the statue. Other snakes are carried in the procession, as well as the traditional bread made to resemble a snake eating its own tail. The snakes are released after the ritual. The Snake Festival happens on the first Thursday in May, which this year will be May 5. See a video of the procession here.
6. SCORCHED NUTS // RUTLAND, OHIO
Scorched Nuts is a Burning Man-type art festival, running May 26-30 this year. It is held at a reclaimed strip mine, with no amenities except porta-potties. All participants are expected to contribute to the fair, and pick up after themselves. Tickets are limited to the first 500 people. Participants must arrive before 4 p.m. on the 26th, and you can’t leave until the 29th or 30th, unless special arrangements are made. And like Burning Man, the climax of the event will be an art effigy burned on Saturday night.
7. C.A.T.S. FEST // SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS
C.A.T.S. Fest has nothing to do with cats, except for the logo—it’s a gathering of cigar lovers. C.A.T.S. is an acronym for Cigar Aficionado Trades and Sales. This year’s festival will be held May 27-29, with a dinner and party on Friday night, the Cigars for Warriors Pro Rodeo, the Beard & Mustache Competition, and a dance. On Sunday, the main event is the Operation: Cigars for Warriors Music Festival. You’ll find a full schedule here. The festival is a fundraiser for the Operation Cigars for Warriors charity. The artwork here of the C.A.T.S. logo will be raffled off during the festival.
8. NAGHOL // PENTECOST ISLAND, VANUATU
People from all over the world travel to Vanuatu in the South Pacific to witness the ritual of Naghol, or Land Diving, during April and May. The men of Pentecost Island jump off 20- to 30-meter wooden towers with only a vine attached to their ankle to break their fall. Yes, this has been credited as part of the inspiration for bungee jumping. It’s not always safe, though, and injuries are common; there have also been a few deaths.
The purpose of land diving is to bless the earth for a bountiful yam harvest, and it’s also used as a coming-of-age ritual for young men ready to prove their bravery. Some men find it a thrill, and everyone wants to impress. That includes tourists, although visitors to the island are limited to the number of guesthouses to accommodate them. The jumps take place each Saturday in April and May, when the vines are just right. The islanders perform dramas and songs before the jumps, and the day always ends with a feast. See a video of the jumps here.
9. SCI-FEST LA // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA
The complete name for Sci-Fest LA is the Los Angeles Science Fiction One-Act Play Festival. This year’s event runs May 5-29 at ACME Theater. Ten plays are on the schedule, and this year, a new program will incorporate science fiction screenplays and TV shows in development. Awards will be bestowed for science fiction writing as well.
10. CINCO DE MAYO // PUEBLA, MEXICO
AlejandroLinaresGarcia via Wikimedia Commons // GFDL
Cinco de Mayo is observed by some in the U.S. as a general holiday celebrating Mexican culture. In Mexico, the fifth of May is a local holiday in some areas to commemorate the Battle of Puebla in 1862, when the Mexican army defeated invading French forces under Napoleon III near the town of Puebla.
Puebla is also where the real celebration takes place. In fact, the festivities begin there on May 5 with a parade, the battle reenactment, and a symphony performance, and continue through May 24. Participants can enjoy a film festival, ballet, photo and art exhibits, music, dancing, and food (more information is available on this interactive calendar). There’s also a big reenactment of the Battle of Puebla held in Mexico City (about 100 kilometers west of Puebla) at Peñón de los Baños on May 5. See a video of the parade in Puebla here.
11. VIKING FESTIVAL // POULSBO, WASHINGTON
Vikings and wannabe Vikings are invited to the annual Viking Fest May 20-22, to celebrate the Scandinavian founders of Poulsbo and Kitsap County. There’s a parade, music, and footrace, plus a strongman competition, a donut-eating competition, a stand up boat race, and a message in a bottle competition, although there are no details on how one would win that.
12. PÉLERINAGE DES GITANS // SAINTES-MARIES-DE-LA-MER, FRANCE
Pélerinage des Gitans in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, France, takes place on May 24-25. It is a celebration of St. Sara, or Sara the Black, the mythic patron saint of the Roma people. St. Sara is also called Sara Kali, which makes a connection between the saint and the Hindu goddess Kali. The Roma originated in India.
Gitans gather from all over Europe during May in the town of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer on the River Rhône delta to await the procession of Sara. In the days before the procession, there is a fiesta of music and dancing. On May 24, a statue of St. Sara is carried in a procession from the church to the sea. The next day, the statues of two other Marys, Mary Salome and Mary Jacobe, are carried from the church to the sea, reenacting their arrival in France. Another Roma tradition is to have one’s children baptized in the Rhône during the festival. A trip to Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer in May has a bonus: Flamingoes gather there during mating season. See a video of the procession of St. Sara in a video here.
13. COOPER’S HILL CHEESE-ROLLING // BROCKWORTH, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, UK
The world-famous annual Cheese-Rolling takes place at Cooper’s Hill in Gloucester on the last Monday in May, which is the Spring Bank Holiday in the UK. This year’s roll will be May 30. The competition involves rolling a wheel of cheese down the hill, followed by people trying to catch it. The hill is very steep, and injuries do occur. There are usually four races, and thousands of spectators. The Cooper’s Hill cheese rolling is organized by fans and volunteers without a sponsor, and participants are warned that it is dangerous. However, there’s never a lack of people who want to try it.