Flickr user mattsabo17
Flickr user mattsabo17

9 Fun Festivals Still to Come in January

Flickr user mattsabo17
Flickr user mattsabo17

Communities are more likely to stage festivals during summer school breaks and in autumn to celebrate the harvest, but that only makes winter festivals stand out from the crowd. If you have some free time, you might want to go where the action is this winter.

1. Up Helly Aa

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Up Helly Aa happens in Lerwick, Shetland, Scotland, on the last Tuesday in January, which is the 29th this year. The festival is led by the elected Guizer Jarl, or head Viking, and his Jarl Squad, clad in different historic uniforms each year. The squad performs various ceremonial duties during the day, and at night the town's lights are turned off while they lead a procession of up to a thousand men carrying torches while thousands more watch. The public is not allowed to watch the end of the procession, in which the torches are used to ceremoniously burn a Viking galley. After the boat is burned, the guizers return to the village for parties and merrymaking. The festival began in the 1800s as rowdy street parties around Christmas evolved into more civilized rituals. A group of young men introduced the Viking theme into the celebrations around 1870. The oldest and biggest Up Helly Aa is at Lerwick, but other towns in Shetland carry on the rituals as well.

2. Harbin Ice and Snow Festival

Photo Credit: LiYan via Wikipedia

The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival lasts for a month, this year until February 5th, although some events may occur later. Harbin is the capital of Heilongjiang Province, near Siberia. The entire city is turned into a wonderland of ice and snow, with some sculptures as big as buildings—and some are actually buildings that can be toured. An area called Ice and Snow World is filled with sculptures that are illuminated at night. Winter sporting events are also a part of the festival, which draws visitors from all over the world.

3. The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Show

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The American Fancy Rat and Mouse Show will be held Saturday, January 26th in Riverside, California. It's an opportunity for breeders and enthusiasts to exhibit and sell rats and mice as pets, but there will also be classes, competitions, and seminars. Admission is free and open to the public, but you must be an AFRMA member to exhibit or sell animals.

4. Frogleg Festival

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The Frogleg Festival in Fellsmere, Florida, started out as a simple dinner to raise money for children's recreational activities. When 400 people showed up, the townspeople decided to make it an annual event, which grew into a three-day festival (January 17 to 20 this year). The main draw are the frog legs and gator tail dinners, but you'll also find carnival rides, contests, and concerts.

5. Camel-wrestling Championship 2013

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Camel wrestling is a popular spectator event in Turkey, in which two bull camels are tempted by a female, and then challenge each other for dominance. In reality…

camel wrestling is more akin to comedy than to blood-sport. Bull camels normally wrestle and butt one another in a knock-out contest for precedence in a herd, and more importantly, precedence in mating. In the arena two bulls are led out and then a young cow is paraded around to get them excited. It's very easy to know when a bull is excited as streams of viscous milky saliva issue from his mouth and nostrils. Mostly the two bulls will half-heartedly butt each other and lean on the other until one of them gives in and runs away. This is the really exciting bit as the bull will often charge off towards the crowd, with the conquering bull in pursuit, and the spectators must scramble hurriedly out of the way. The antics of spectators trying to avoid a thousand kilograms (nearly a ton) of camel running towards them can lead to pure comedy and is the best part of camel wrestling.

Although the camel-wrestling season runs through March, Selçuk, Turkey, will stage a championship event on January 20.

6. Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival

The Great Alaska Beer & Barley Wine Festival is a trade show held in Anchorage January 18-19. Admission is $40, but that includes beer! Dozens of regional brewers participate and show off their specialty brews. The festival benefits small breweries in exposure, and proceeds benefit the American Diabetes Association.

7. Australia Day Cockroach Races

Photo Credit: Australia Day Cockroach Races

January 26th is Australia Day, and many festivals across the continent will coincide with the midsummer holiday. One of the more unusual events is the Cockroach Races in Brisbane on January 26th. Although the event organizers bring in cockroaches from Melbourne, entrants are encouraged to bring their own roaches as there aren't usually enough. Cockroaches have numbers painted on them to determine who wins each race. The festival also has live entertainment and a Miss Cocky Competition beauty pageant, which accepts entries up to the last minute.

8. Tunarama Festival

Photo Credit: Perrin Ivon

Also coinciding with Australia Day festivities, the Tunarama Festival in Port Lincoln, South Australia, happens in summertime down under, on January 25 to 28 this year. In addition to the usual festival events, this one includes the World Championship Tuna Toss. How far can you throw a big tuna fish? The winner gets $3000! Other competitions are the prawn peeling contest, the slippery pole competition, the tattoo competition, and the plywood boat building contest.

9. Gasparilla Pirate Fest

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The Gasparilla Pirate Fest will be held January 26 when the Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla sails into Hillsborough Bay to invade Tampa, Florida. Which they've done annually since 1904, so it won't be a surprise. The pre-Lenten festival is named in honor of Jose Gaspar, the pirate called Gasparilla, who terrorized the Florida coast 200 years ago. Events include a pirate parade, brunch, and entertainment at the street festival at MacDill Park.

Yes, you still have time to make it to each of these events, but as far as hotel accommodations go, you're on your own!

New Plant-Based Coating Can Keep Your Avocados Fresh for Twice as Long

Thanks to a food technology startup called Apeel Sciences, eating fresh avocados will soon be a lot easier. The Bill Gates–backed company has developed a coating designed to keep avocados fresh for up to twice as long as traditional fruit, Bloomberg reports, and these long-lasting avocados will soon be available at 100 grocery stores across the Midwestern U.S. Thirty or so of the grocery stores involved in the limited rollout of the Apeel avocado will be Costcos, so feel free to buy in bulk.

Getting an avocado to a U.S. grocery store is more complicated than it sounds; the majority of avocados sold in the U.S. come from California or Mexico, making it tricky to get fruit to the Midwest or New England at just the right moment in an avocado’s life cycle.

Apeel’s coating is made of plant material—lipids and glycerolipids derived from peels, seeds, and pulp—that acts as an extra layer of protective peel on the fruit, keeping water in and oxygen out, and thus reducing spoilage. (Oxidation is the reason that your sliced avocados and apples brown after they’ve been exposed to the air for a while.) The tasteless coating comes in a powder that fruit producers mix with water and then dip their fruit into.

A side-by-side comparison of a coated and uncoated avocado after 30 days, with the uncoated avocado looking spoiled and the coated one looking fresh

According to Apeel, coating a piece of produce in this way can keep it fresh for two to three times longer than normal without any sort of refrigeration of preservatives. This not only allows consumers a few more days to make use of their produce before it goes bad, reducing food waste, but can allow producers to ship their goods to farther-away markets without refrigeration.

Avocados are the first of Apeel's fruits to make it to market, but there are plans to debut other Apeel-coated produce varieties in the future. The company has tested its technology on apples, artichokes, mangos, and several other fruits and vegetables.

[h/t Bloomberg]

The Curious Origins of 16 Common Phrases

Our favorite basketball writer is ESPN's Zach Lowe. On his podcast, the conversation often takes detours into the origins of certain phrases. We compiled a list from Zach and added a few of our own, then sent them to language expert Arika Okrent. Where do these expressions come from anyway?


Bus token? Game token? What kind of token is involved here? Token is a very old word, referring to something that’s a symbol or sign of something else. It could be a pat on the back as a token, or sign, of friendship, or a marked piece of lead that could be exchanged for money. It came to mean a fact or piece of evidence that could be used as proof. “By the same token” first meant, basically “those things you used to prove that can also be used to prove this.” It was later weakened into the expression that just says “these two things are somehow associated.”


1944: A woman standing on a soapbox speaking into a mic
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The soapbox that people mount when they “get on a soapbox” is actually a soap box, or rather, one of the big crates that used to hold shipments of soap in the late 1800s. Would-be motivators of crowds would use them to stand on as makeshift podiums to make proclamations, speeches, or sales pitches. The soap box then became a metaphor for spontaneous speech making or getting on a roll about a favorite topic.


The notion of Tom fool goes a long way. It was the term for a foolish person as long ago as the Middle Ages (Thomas fatuus in Latin). Much in the way the names in the expression Tom, Dick, and Harry are used to mean “some generic guys,” Tom fool was the generic fool, with the added implication that he was a particularly absurd one. So the word tomfoolery suggested an incidence of foolishness that went a bit beyond mere foolery.


chimp eating banana

The expression “go bananas” is slang, and the origin is a bit harder to pin down. It became popular in the 1950s, around the same time as “go ape,” so there may have been some association between apes, bananas, and crazy behavior. Also, banana is just a funny-sounding word. In the 1920s people said “banana oil!” to mean “nonsense!”


If something is run of the mill, it’s average, ordinary, nothing special. But what does it have to do with milling? It most likely originally referred to a run from a textile mill. It’s the stuff that’s just been manufactured, before it’s been decorated or embellished. There were related phrases like “run of the mine,” for chunks of coal that hadn’t been sorted by size yet, and “run of the kiln,” for bricks as they came out without being sorted for quality yet.


The Law's Delay: Reading The Riot Act 1820
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When you read someone the riot act you give a stern warning, but what is it that you would you have been reading? The Riot Act was a British law passed in 1714 to prevent riots. It went into effect only when read aloud by an official. If too many people were gathering and looking ready for trouble, an officer would let them know that if they didn’t disperse, they would face punishment.


Hands down comes from horse racing, where, if you’re way ahead of everyone else, you can relax your grip on the reins and let your hands down. When you win hands down, you win easily.


The silver lining is the optimistic part of what might otherwise be gloomy. The expression can be traced back directly to a line from Milton about a dark cloud revealing a silver lining, or halo of bright sun behind the gloom. The idea became part of literature and part of the culture, giving us the proverb “every cloud has a silver lining” in the mid-1800s.


The expression “you’ve got your work cut out for you” comes from tailoring. To do a big sewing job, all the pieces of fabric are cut out before they get sewn together. It seems like if your work has been cut for you, it should make job easier, but we don’t use the expression that way. The image is more that your task is well defined and ready to be tackled, but all the difficult parts are yours to get to. That big pile of cut-outs isn’t going to sew itself together!


A grapevine is a system of twisty tendrils going from cluster to cluster. The communication grapevine was first mentioned in 1850s, the telegraph era. Where the telegraph was a straight line of communication from one person to another, the “grapevine telegraph” was a message passed from person to person, with some likely twists along the way.


The earliest uses of shebang were during the Civil War era, referring to a hut, shed, or cluster of bushes where you’re staying. Some officers wrote home about “running the shebang,” meaning the encampment. The origin of the word is obscure, but because it also applied to a tavern or drinking place, it may go back to the Irish word shebeen for a ramshackle drinking establishment.


Pushing the envelope belongs to the modern era of the airplane. The “flight envelope” is a term from aeronautics meaning the boundary or limit of performance of a flight object. The envelope can be described in terms of mathematical curves based on things like speed, thrust, and atmosphere. You push it as far as you can in order to discover what the limits are. Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff brought the expression into wider use.


We say someone can’t hold a candle to someone else when their skills don’t even come close to being as good. In other words, that person isn’t even good enough to hold up a candle so that a talented person can see what they’re doing in order to work. Holding the candle to light a workspace would have been the job of an assistant, so it’s a way of saying not even fit to be the assistant, much less the artist.


Most acids dissolve other metals much more quickly than gold, so using acid on a metallic substance became a way for gold prospectors to see if it contained gold. If you pass the acid test, you didn’t dissolve—you’re the real thing.


What kind of wire is haywire? Just what it says—a wire for baling hay. In addition to tying up bundles, haywire was used to fix and hold things together in a makeshift way, so a dumpy, patched-up place came to be referred to as “a hay-wire outfit.” It then became a term for any kind of malfunctioning thing. The fact that the wire itself got easily tangled when unspooled contributed to the “messed up” sense of the word.


Carpet used to mean a thick cloth that could be placed in a range of places: on the floor, on the bed, on a table. The floor carpet is the one we use most now, so the image most people associate with this phrase is one where a servant or employee is called from plainer, carpetless room to the fancier, carpeted part of the house. But it actually goes back to the tablecloth meaning. When there was an issue up for discussion by some kind of official council it was “on the carpet.”


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