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.
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.
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.
Image via Atlantico.net
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.
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.
6. Famadihana: Festival of the Turning of the Bones, Madagascar
Image via yallabook.com
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
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.
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.
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.
Image via Afternoon Tea