One thing I did not expect to discover when I set out on the European Bazaar project was just how many festivals there are out there that people would call bizarre. Even after over a year of researching and six months trekking back and forth across the continent, I’m still having people regale me with events, ceremonies or competitions that : 1) test my credulity and 2) I struggle to believe I’m yet to hear about.
With so many tides of history having swept over Europe, it’s no surprise that so many towns, villages and groups of people have sought to commemorate what makes them special, to turn some element of their story into something that will last. It may not have feel like it at the time – and we’re still doing it today – but how we celebrate is essentially us trying to leave a mark in the history books, to leave a legacy of who we were and what we cared for.
So it should have been no surprise that in every corner of Europe, wherever people cluster together, that ‘strange’ festivals should persist, or indeed, keep cropping up.
The Third and Final category in this year’s One Small World Awards marks:
EUROPE’S MOST UNMISSABLE FESTIVAL
These are the festivals that most surprised, that created something magical and effervescent that only existed for a moment, or a day, or a weekend. Some are well known yet intimate, others are huge but unknown even in its own country.
These are festivals that linger in the memory and call for you to return the following year. When your adventure is over these festivals make up one of those moments that you can’t look back upon without a rush of excitement.
These are the festivals to put high on your bucket list.
This week we’ll be announcing FOUR finalists, announced two at a time in random order and the winner will be revealed on Monday 24th November.
Beltane is otherworldly. For one night, the top of Edinburgh’s Calton Hill becomes a pagan delight; a realm filled with nymphs and spirits, a fire-breathing dragon and mischievous faeries.
This homage to fire and frenzy is a story of death and rebirth, of seasons caught in an eternal battle. It is portrayed through the bodies of its performers, the rhythm of its drumbeats and the ethereal location looking out over the lights of Edinburgh, as though at fireflies in a forest.
Spectators follow a snaking procession along its journey into the spirit world, watching the evolving relationship between the May Queen and the Green Man. This love affair will see the world renewed, once more ready for the life-giving season of Summer.
It’s no surprise that bidding goodbye to the Winter inspires such a wild and riotous party in the Scots, and many of them will party all night to shake the Winter from their bones.
A fantastic vision of the faery-world in one of the world’s most beautiful cities.
There is something carnal about slicking yourself in mud, something regressive and utterly freeing about literally throwing yourself into a thick stew of liquid earth.
In far Northern Germany, the Wattolümpiade or Mud Olympics are held on the mud flats of the tidal mouth of the Elbe River. Here an amazingly flat pitch of gorgeous sucking mud is revealed by the retreating waters, fit for such sports as football, handball, volleyball and sled racing.
Following a hilarious parade of each of the teams, all dressed up and coordinated in costume, the games begin! Each generally degenerates into a great deal of splashing and dramatic dives, with occasional attempts to move the ball in the desired direction.
And following each match the participants subject themselves to a brisk fire-hosing before stepping, newly-clean, back onto the bank to partake in the beer, sausages and inter-team back slapping.
Then they do it all again. The only problem with the event is that the team numbers are limited and they sell out months in advance, so if you want to be a part of it you have to plan ahead.
But even if you don’t have a team, there’s nothing stopping you from getting down and dirty in the mud or participating in world record attempts for the most people doing mud angels.
An incredibly enjoyable event, well off the beaten track, which will leave you wondering why you don’t splash in the mud more often.
Despite being one of the most recognisable city names in the world, Pisa is often considered just a single photo opportunity or a quick day trip out of Florence. But to consider it so, is doing this lovely city a disservice.
Though overshadowed by its Florentine counterpart, Pisa holds its own as a city to wander around and explore. It has an long and intriguing history, even though it was often on the losing side of the Pisa-Florence rivalry.
Every year the Gioco del Ponte, or Game/Battle of the Bridge, divides the city into two competing teams. In the space of one night these teams face off across one of the bridges that span the sweeping Arno river, to show who is the greater, and who will have the bragging rights for the following year.
As you can imagine, to the proud Italians, this is an important event and one that is enacted with all the pomp and ceremony one would expect from the people who created the Catholic church.
The amount of care and work that goes into the Gioco del Ponte is staggering. Every team maintains medieval uniforms that they wear for a long snaking procession that precedes the competition on the bridge. This includes immaculate armour and weapons, trumpets and flags.
Each ‘battle’ then pits two teams from opposite sides of the bridge into an epic ‘push-of-war’, attempting to push an enormous cart into the defending team’s endzone. Matches can last as little as a minute or, as we witnessed, take 20 minutes of harrowing endurance.
And most curious of all is that despite the size and spectacular nature of the Gioco del Ponte, the event is hardly even known about in Italy, let alone the rest of the world. This is a truly undiscovered gem.
Despite being one of the smallest festivals on the European Bazaar calendar, this Wormcharming festival – nestled in the verdant green pastures of south-west England – remains one of the most memorable.
Though I grew up in a large city half a world away, walking down the narrow streets of Blackawton village inspires a certain reminiscence that is akin to the feeling of coming home after a long absence. Maybe its the cheerful gardens, and the rare sunny English sky. Maybe its because the quaint lanes and glimpses of rolling grassy hills tickle some childhood memories of Beatrix Potter stories or The Animals of Farthing Wood.
Not only is the town like a pastoral painting come to life, the people of Blackawton and surrounds stand as some of the friendliest I had the pleasure of meeting.
The Wormcharming itself is packed with humour suitable for all ages, lively characters such as Old Farmer Worm Charming, Official Judges and of course, the cunning Official Cheats. During the day this is all helped along by the accompanying local ale festival and a packed schedule of general merriment.
And then there is the actual wormcharming: 15 minutes of mayhem to see who can charm the greatest number of worms from their patch of soil, using almost any worm-friendly method you can think of. Music was a popular option, though whether the little wrigglers preferred folk or jazz could not be established. Magic potions abounded; simulated rain storms were effective. And with the winner achieving 105 worms ‘charmed’ in the 15 minutes, success is a wonder to behold!
Last but not least, no trip to the wormcharming is complete without staying through to the end, and pressing yourself shoulder to shoulder into the iconic George Inn for the evening charity auction. It may well be the funniest evening of your life.