Inside 10 of the World's Strangest Festivals

The spooky rites of 'Midsommar' have nothing on these real-life celebrations.

Ari Aster's new film Midsommar tells the story of a Swedish festival that takes a gruesome turn. While that festival's carnage-soaked rituals are not based in reality (as far as we know), there are still plenty of peculiar festivals around the world for those seeking unnerving or flat-out bizarre forms of celebration.

These festivals vary greatly, both in terms of their religious significance and their spookiness, but they're all bound together by a common goal: to bring people together in celebration of something greater than themselves. From worms to radishes, Satanists to mud-bathers, here's a tour through some of the world's wildest gatherings.

1. La Tomatina, Spain

People filling the streets, soaked in a thick red liquid, hurling clumps of putrid red materials at each other… no, this isn't the scene of a horror film: it happens every year as part of La Tomatina. The festival started as a street fight between teenagers who decided to pummel each other with tomatoes from vegetable stalls, and it's become a beloved tradition in the Spanish town of Buñol.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via The Atlantic

2. Night of the Radishes, Mexico

Though this sounds like the name of an excellent horror film, it's actually the name of another vegetable-related festival. Based in Mexico, this celebration involves street vendors carving faces into their oversized radishes. The results are truly marvelous to behold, but also, it's deeply disorienting to imagine being in the vicinity of thousands of humanoid vegetables.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via Mental Floss

3. Fiesta de Santa Marta de Ribarteme, Spain

This festival is a celebration of near death experiences, and like you might imagine, it's all about death. As part of the celebration, live participants who have had near death experiences are carried in coffins through the streets of a small Spanish village called As Nieves in the province of Galicia. The procession ends at the cemetery of the Church of Santa Maria de Ribarteme, and culminates in this prayer: "Virgin Santa Marta, star of the North, we bring you those who saw death."

Despite how it might seem, the festival is not really about death at all. In Catholic tradition, Santa Marta is the sister of Lazarus, the saint who was brought back from the dead by Jesus. She's said to be the patron saint of reincarnation and protection, so honoring Santa Marta is actually all about honoring life.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via

4. Frozen Dead Guy Days, Colorado, USA

This eloquently named celebration takes place in the town of Nederland, Colorado. In 1989, a Norwegian man named Trygve Bauge purchased the corpse of his grandfather, Bredo Mørstol, and promptly cryogenically froze him. For years, Bauge kept her father's frozen body in a shack behind her house. When she was finally evicted and fined, the story sent shockwaves around the community—and had a surprising effect: citizens began holding a weekend festival in celebration of Bauge's endeavor. Complete with coffin races and a slow-motion parade, this festival is the veritable embodiment of America: strange, absurdist, and inexplicable.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via The Know Denver Post

5. Hungry Ghost Festival, China

According to the Chinese calendar, the fifteenth day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar is called Ghost Day. The seventh month (which usually falls around August) is called Ghost Month, and it's supposed to be the time of year when the boundaries between the earthly and spiritual plane are the thinnest. On the fifteenth day, apparently the gates between Heaven, Hell, and Earth swing open. On this day, people make offerings to their dead, such as elaborate meals, incense, and paper boats or lanterns.

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6. Famadihana: Festival of the Turning of the Bones, Madagascar

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via

As part of this funerary rite based in Madagascar, participants remove their loved ones from their crypts, rewrap the corpses in new cloth, and re-bury them. During the process, festivities such as dancing and drinking ensue–and sometimes participants will even dance with the corpses of their loved ones. The festival only occurs every five to seven years, and to honor their ancestors on the occasion, the people will sometimes spend more money on tombs than they spend on their houses. According to Malagasy tradition, ancestors serve as intermediaries between heaven and earth, and souls only move on to the next life after their bones have decomposed; so ancestor worship is highly important to the culture.

7. Black Mass, Catemaco, Mexico

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via Vice

Attended by over 200 shamans, witches, and healers, as well as around 5,000 spectators, this festival is a celebration of all things occult. It originally involved a large number of animal sacrifices, but since then the carnage has been turned down—at least publicly. Still, animal sacrifice rituals still occur in the nearby hills, with travelers coming from far and wide in hopes that a shaman might scare their demons away by slitting a goat's throat or two.

The festival is actually supposed to be a celebration of spring, and it has its roots in pagan rituals of ancient times, which began thousands of years before Europeans brought Christianity to the area. Today, the mass is intended to be a cleansing ritual, though some use it to rekindle their relationships with Satan or dark magic forces—and if you go, you'll probably see a few burning crosses, pentagrams, and other demonic symbols, flashing among the herbs and the crystals.

8. Vegetarian Festival, Thailand

This festival's name may seem innocuous, but it's actually one of the world's most painful celebrations. Based in the city of Puget, Thailand, this festival requires participants to fall into a trance and subsequently mutilate their bodies in different ways, using syringes, guns, blades, and more. These mutilations are always performed without anaesthetic, and the purpose of this is to show devotion and submission to the gods.

The Vegetarian Festival is an offshoot of the Nine Emperor Gods festival, which is a nine-day Taoist celebration held across Southeast Asia. It typically involves honoring the gods of life and death, and devotees wear white, light incense, and hold processions by waterways. Submission to the gods is an important part of this festival, and the Vegetarian Festival takes this idea to the extreme.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via The Culture Trip

9. Boryeung Mud Festival, South Korea

Every year, the inhabitants of the sleepy town of Boryeung, South Korea take advantage of their proximity to the mineral-rich Yellow Sea and spend the month of July playing mud games, taking mud baths, racing in mud obstacle marathons, and more. This is one rare example where someone selling something actually led to people enjoying themselves, instead of the other way around: The festival began as a marketing strategy for companies trying to sell cosmetics made from the region's mud, and soon blossomed into something much more.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via Lonely Planet

10. Blackawton Festival of Worm Charming, England

The little town of Blackawton, England is home to a very strange festival. It all began in 1983, when a man named Dave Kelland was relieving himself in a field when he noticed that he had inadvertently coaxed a bunch of worms out of the earth. Well, somehow or other, Kelland was inspired to turn this into a competition.

Today, Blackawton is home to an annual Festival of Worm Charming, during which competitors compete to see who can draw the most worms out of the ground. It's not all about urinating, though; worms can be charmed out of the earth through light tapping, mimicking birdsong, or "twanging" the ground with a fork in the soil. Surprisingly, it's been voted as Europe's most unmissable festival.

World's Most Bizarre Festivals Image via Afternoon Tea

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It's no secret that the restaurant scene in New York City is one of the most impressive in the world.

Whatever you could want to eat, you can find it in New York—meaning that even if you have a slightly restrictive diet, like veganism, there's plenty of options for you. Local fast-casual chains like By Chloe and Superiority Burger are making New York one of the most vegan-friendly cities in the world, but the deliciousness doesn't stop there.

Between Manhattan and Brooklyn, there's been a boom of vegan restaurants that'll satisfy any craving. Here are just a few of our favorites.

Blossom(Upper West Side + Greenwich Village)

vegan restaurant

With two locations serving both Uptown and Downtown, Blossom is a go-to for local and tourist vegans alike. They offer an elevated dining experience (and a wide-spanning takeout radius) that puts a cruelty-free spin on classic main dishes like chicken piccata, rigatoni, and grilled salmon. Complete your dinner with a fresh, fruity cocktail and tiramisu—but reservations are strongly recommended beforehand.

Jajaja (West Village + Lower East Side)

vegan Jajaja

Jajaja is the ultimate heaven for Mexican food addicts. Get your fix of south of the border staples like burritos, street tacos, and enchiladas that'll make you second guess whether or not it's actually vegan (pro tip: The nacho portion is large enough to be a meal for one person). They also have a small but mighty menu of tequila and mezcal cocktails to kick off a night of LES bar-hopping. It gets crowded here quickly, though, so try to schedule your dinner early.

Urban Vegan Kitchen(West Village)

Urban Vegan Kitchen

We get it—eating vegan can get kind of bland sometimes. But that's not an issue at Urban Vegan Kitchen, the type of restaurant that'll have you wanting to order one of everything on the menu (but we recommend the "chicken" and waffles). Co-owned by the founder of Blossom, they boast a menu that's just as edgy and exciting as their decor. Their space is large too, making it a crowd-pleasing option for a slightly larger group.

Champs Diner (Williamsburg)

Champs Diner vegan

Located near the border of hip neighborhoods Williamsburg and Bushwick, Champs is a favorite of many young Brooklynites. Their menu is full of vegan alternatives to classic diner fare like breakfast plates, cheeseburgers, and even milkshakes that taste mysteriously like the real deal, while the decor puts a quintessential Brooklyn edge on '50s digs. Who said going plant-based had to be healthy all the time, anyway?

Peacefood (Greenwich Village)

vegan Peacefood

Conveniently located just a stone's throw from Union Square—near both NYU and the New School—Peacefood is a hotspot for college students, but vegans of any age are guaranteed to enjoy their menu. They specialize in comfort food items like quiche, chicken parmesan, and chili with corn bread—all plant-based, of course. While their "chicken" tender basket is to die for, make sure to save room for dessert here, too; Peacefood's lengthy pastry menu is a dream come true.

Buddha Bodai (Chinatown)

Buddha Bodai vegan

Dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are a dime a dozen, but Buddha Bodai takes the cake for the best veggie-friendly experience in one of New York's most bustling neighborhoods. Bring your family or friends along with you to enjoy this massive menu of buns and dumplings stuffed with any type of mock meat you could want. This is also a great option for gluten-free vegans, too, as much of their menu accommodates a gluten-free diet.

Greedi Kitchen (Crown Heights)

Greedi Kitchen vegan

Crown Heights might not be the first neighborhood people think of when it comes to dining in Brooklyn, but Greedi Kitchen is making the case for delicious restaurants in the area. Inspired by its founder's many years of travel, Greedi Kitchen combines the comforting flavors of southern soul food with the added pizazz of global influences. Try one of their po'boys or the crab cake sliders. Trust us.

Screamer’s Pizzeria (Greenpoint + Crown Heights)

Screamer's Pizza vegan

We know what you're thinking: Pizza without real cheese? Call us crazy, but Screamer's does vegan pizza to perfection. If you're into classic pies like a simple margherita or pepperoni, or you want to branch out with unexpected topping combinations, Screamer's is delicious enough to impress carnivores, too (pro tip: the Greenpoint location is small and serves most pies by the slice, while the Crown Heights location is larger for sitting down).

Learning a second language is one of the coolest and most rewarding things you can do in your spare time.

However, if hopping on a one-way ticket to your country of choice isn't an option for you, it can be difficult to find an immersive experience to learn, especially past high school or college.

The next best thing is language-learning apps.

We wanted to look at the top two: DuoLingo and Rosetta Stone. Duolingo is the new kid on the block; one of the top downloaded, this free app is a favorite. Then, there's the legacy option: Rosetta Stone. For over 20 years, they've been developing their language-learning software, and their app is the most recent innovation.

They're both great options, but keep reading to figure out which one is the best for you.

Key Similarities

  • Both claim you'll expand your vocabulary
  • Both are available as an app for iOS and Android users
  • Both have a clean user interface with appealing graphics
  • Both have offline capabilities (if you pay)

Key Differences

  • DuoLingo has a popular free version along with its paid version, whereas Rosetta Stone only has a paid version
  • DuoLingo offers 35+ languages, and Rosetta Stone offers 24 languages
  • Rosetta Stone has an advanced TruAccent feature to detect and correct your accent
  • DuoLingo offers a breadth of similar vocab-recognizing features, and Rosetta Stone offers a wider variety of learning methods, like Stories

DuoLingo Overview

DuoLingo's app and its iconic owl have definitely found a place in pop culture. One of the most popular free language-learning apps, it offers 35 different languages, including Klingon, that can be learned through a series of vocabulary-matching games.

DuoLingo offers a free version and a version for $9.99 a month without ads and with offline access.

Rosetta Stone Overview

The Rosetta Stone app is a beast. There are 24 different languages to choose from, but more importantly, you get a huge variety of methods for learning. Not only are there simple games, but there are stories where you get to listen, the Seek and Speak feature, where you go on a treasure hunt to photograph images and get the translations, and the TruAccent feature, which will help you refine your accent. Whenever you speak into the app, you'll get a red/yellow/green rating on your pronunciation, so you can fine-tune it to really sound like you have a firm grasp of the language.

Rosetta Stone costs just $5.99 a month for a 24-month subscription, which gives you access to all of their 24 languages!

Final Notes

Overall, these are both excellent apps for increasing your proficiency in a new language! They both feel quite modern and have a fun experience.

When it comes to really committing words to memory and understanding them, Rosetta Stone is king.

DuoLingo definitely will help you learn new words, and the app can be addicting, but users report it as more of a game than a means to an end.

With Rosetta Stone's variety of features, you'll never get bored; there are more passive elements and more active elements to help you activate different parts of your brain, so you're learning in a more dynamic and efficient way.

The folks at Rosetta Stone are extending a special offer to our readers only: Up To 45% Off Rosetta Stone + Unlimited Languages & Free Tutoring Sessions!


So You Want to Try Workaway

Want to travel cheap, meet locals and kindred spirits, live off the land, and possibly change your life? It might be time to try Workaway.

Sitting in a house on a hill in Tuscany, Italy, watching the sun set and listening to the sound of music coming from the house in which I was staying almost rent-free, I wondered how I had gotten this lucky.

Actually, it was really all thanks to one website—

Workaway Workaway

Workaway is a site that sets travelers up with hosts, who provide visitors with room and board in exchange for roughly five hours of work each weekday. The arrangement varies from host to host—some offer money, others require it—but typically, the Workaway experience is a rare bird: a largely anti-capitalist exchange.

I did four Workaways the summer I traveled in Europe, and then one at a monastery near my home in New York the summer after. Each experience, though they lasted around two weeks each, was among the most enriching times of my life—and I'd argue I learned almost as much through those experiences as I did in four years of college.

There's something extremely special about the Workaway experience, though it's certainly not for everyone.

Workaway Isn't for Everyone: What to Know Before You Go

I loved all the Workaways I went on, but the best advice I can give to anyone considering going is: Enter with an open mind. If you're someone who doesn't do well with the unexpected, if you're not willing to be flexible, if you're a picky eater or easily freaked out, then it's likely that you won't have a good experience at a Workaway.

There are exceptions to all of this. At the Workaway I stayed at in Italy, one of the travelers was suffering from stomach bloating, and the host helped cure her with a diet of miso. (I'm not saying you should go Workawaying if you're ill—this traveler's mother also came to oversee everything—but still, you never know what you'll find).


You should also probably be willing and able to actually work at your Workaway. These aren't vacations, and some hosts will be stricter and less forgiving than others regarding your work ethic. If you're someone who has no experience with difficult farm work, for example, it might not be a good idea to do a Workaway on a farm.

How to Choose a Host

The Workaway website boasts a truly overwhelming number of hosts. You can narrow your search down by location, but you can also search key terms that can help guide you in the right direction. You might search "music," for example—that's how I found the Italy location. You'll find hosts in busy cities and in the most remote mountains of India; you'll find opportunities to tutor and explore. You'll find shadiness, too, so trust your instincts.

Take time to actually read the host's entire bio before reaching out. Read all the comments, too, and if you're nervous or a first-timer, only reach out to hosts who have exclusively glowing reviews. I had the best experiences with hosts that had left extremely detailed bios—that showed me they were likely going to be dedicated hosts.

I also chose hosts whose bios gave me a good feeling, something like a spark of electricity or recognition. This instinctual method might not work for everyone, but it certainly led me in the right direction in all of my Workaway experiences. My Workaways gave me some of the best memories and deepest relationships of my life, and that was partly thanks to the fact that I chose places that were good fits for me.

For example, I chose to stay alone with a wizened academic in France. Something about his bio and descriptions resonated with me enough to trust him. (I also read some of his many thousand-page-long treatises on peace and compassion and decided that if someone could write this and be a psychopath, this wasn't a world I wanted to live in anyway). It was the right decision—and the two weeks I spent there were some of the most enlightening of my entire life.

When you reach out to a host, particularly if it's someone you really want to stay with, it's a good idea to frame your initial contact email as a cover letter of sorts—make sure you explain who you are and personalize your letter to fit each host.

Ixcanaan A Workaway painting experienceWorkaway

Travel Safely

Especially if you're traveling alone, it's always a good idea to choose a host whose page has tons of good reviews. Aside from that, a quick Google search and a scan of any social media pages related to your potential host can't hurt.

Ultimately, Workawaying requires a certain amount of trust and faith on both the host and the traveler's parts—you're either trusting someone to stay in your home or trusting a stranger to host and feed you.

But that trust, in my experience, also results in rapid and deep connections unlike anything I've experienced in the "real world." When you go and share a home with someone, you're also sharing yourself with them, and in that exchange there are the seeds of a powerful bond.

Participate Fully

Wherever you go, you'll want to open your mind and participate fully. Adjust yourself to your host's lifestyle, not the other way around, and take time to get to know your host and the others around you.

You might find that you become someone you never knew you were. As a lifelong introvert, I somehow managed to develop close relationships with many of the people I was staying with.

This might be because most people who are at Workaways are seeking something for one reason or another. In my experience, you find lots of people who are at junctures in their lives, seeking connection and meaning. With the right Workaway, you might just find it.

Workaway The Broke Backpacker - WorkawayThe Broke Backpacker