The return of warm weather and the celebration of Easter give us many traditional festivals. They don’t look the same everywhere; in fact they are so different they won’t fit into any category, except they happen in April. Which of these would you jump on a plane for?
1. Naghol Land Diving Festival, Pentecost Island, Vanuatu
The island of Pentecost, in the nation of Vanuatu, invented the sport of bungee jumping, but it’s not like anything you’ve seen elsewhere. The tradition is called Gol or Naghol, or land diving in English. Men of the Sa tribe build a tower 20 to 30 meters tall, and jump off the top, secured only by a vine tied to their ankle. If the vine is too long or not ripe enough, the man may die (the last such death was in 1974). The ritual is a passage to manhood, a male fertility rite, and a prayer for a good harvest, all rolled into one. Although restricted to men, the legend behind the story has a woman bungee jumping:
In it, a wife escapes from her abusive husband, Tamalie, who discovers her up a tree. In exchange for coming back down, he promises to beat her, but only a little bit this time. However, if he has to climb up to retrieve her, he promises to beat her a lot. She refuses his “offer” and remains in the tree until eventually Tamalie makes the climb. Once he reaches her, she quickly hurls herself from the branch falling to the earth below. He dives after her to catch her (whether out of guilt or hubris isn’t known), and falls to his death, not realizing that she had cleverly tied liana vines around her ankles to prevent herself from falling all the way down.
Before a jump, the participant loudly proclaims his skill and bravery from the top of the tower. The aim of the jump is to touch the ground, but not enough as to cause death. The Naghol Festival was once restricted to April, but the tourist boom has caused the festival to stretch into May and June in the past few years. Jumps will take place on Saturdays, beginning April 5th. Spectators are limited to 50 per event.
2. Kanamara Matsuri Festival, Kawasaki, Japan
The Kanamara Matsuri Festival is the Festival of the Steel Phallus, but locals just call it the Penis Festival. It is held the first Sunday in April, which is the 6th this year, in Kawasaki, Japan. The legend behind the festival involves a demon who invaded a woman’s vagina and bit off any penises coming her way, until a blacksmith forged a steel phallus that defeated the demon. The legend led to the veneration of the steel phallus, and its enshrinement. The shrine was used by Shinto prostitutes praying for protection from venereal disease, and they would carry giant phalluses through the streets. The procession is still tradition, along with other festival activities like dancing, food, and souvenirs. Not that you’d want to show them off in your living room. See more pictures here. Be warned that all of these links contain NSFW images. It wasn’t easy selecting one for this list that might not offend.
3. Semana Santa de Sevilla, Seville, Spain
Holy Week, leading up to Easter, sees traditional rituals and festival all over the world. Seville, Spain, is particularly known for their week of public rituals and processions, called Semana Santa, which people travel from all over the world to see. Seventy different groups (church brotherhoods) dressed in medieval hoods and robes, carry life size depictions of Holy Week scenes through the streets in these processions. Semana Santa festivities will take place from April 13th to 20th this year.
4. World Marbles Championship, Tinsley Green, UK
The British and World Marbles Championship is held every year on Good Friday in Tinsley Green, West Sussex, England. This year’s competition is on April 18th. The tradition began in 1588, when two men competing for a woman’s hand agreed to decide the outcome on a series of sporting events, which lasted a week, but the final outcome was decided by a game of marbles. The modern incarnation of the tournament has been held annually since 1932, with only wartime interruptions. Competitors come from all over Europe, plus the United States and Australia.
5. Rouketopolemos, Vrontados, Greece
Rouketopolemos is the traditional Rocket War that occurs between two churches in Vrantados in the Greek island of Chios. Fireworks are commonly detonated across many Greek communities at midnight at the beginning of Easter Sunday. But in Vrontados, the rockets are aimed at the bell towers of St. Mark's and Panaghia Ereithiani, two hilltop churches. The tradition goes back to the days of the Ottoman Empire, but no one is quite sure what the real story was. The churches are battened down ahead of time, and the police mostly turn a blind eye to the war, but will step in if someone is injured.
The war launches during Easter evening services, and upward of 80,000 small rockets are launched. As a "winner" can rarely be verified, the rivals agree to continue the war next year. The presence of huge numbers of tourists gives the two factions encouragement to continue the tradition. This year’s battle will take place on the evening of April 20th.
6. Beltane Fire Festival, Edinburgh, Scotland
Beltane, the Gaelic May Day, begins on the sunset of April 30th and runs through the sunset of May 1st, and is the halfway mark between the vernal equinox and the summer solstice. Presented by the Beltane Fire Society, the Beltane Fire Festival in Edinburgh is a cultural remnant of the old pagan holiday.
The Fire Festival takes places on the evening of April 30th on Calton Hill in Edinburgh. It begins with a procession led by the May Queen and the Green Man. A performance retells the mythical story of the earth’s step into summer, and the bonfires are lit. The performers dance, and are joined by spectators.