Gilroy, California — July
It started with a true visionary: Dr. Rudy Melone, a college president, was shocked to learn that a small French town considered itself the Garlic Capital of the World. His dream was to prove to the world that Gilroy, an even smaller California village, should hold that honor.
Behold the largest event in the world featuring everything garlic. Garlic soup, garlic pie, garlic kebabs, and garlic sandwiches await brave souls for whom halitosis is not an issue. Musicians sing odes to garlic while artists sell their garlic masterpieces. It’s a truly unique and pungent event.
Best feature: The “Garlic Festival Queen Pageant” crowns the loveliest garlic waif, the wet dream of all Gilroy guys. Just don’t kiss her.
Cow Painting Festival
Luxembourg City, Luxembourg — April to September
The country that everyone forgets is a country can take credit for exploiting the most overlooked canvas for artistic creation: fake cows. Every summer this capital city comes alive with metal, wooden, concrete, and fiberglass cows sporting the wildest whims of its artists. There are cows with zebra udders, and others with painted on Alpine landscapes and paisley swirls, which join naked women on the streets and squares. Some even moo.
There are no prizes and no winners. It’s just a whole whack of art on cows. You gotta wonder how exciting the people who live among them are…
Best feature: Being seen deeply contemplating with a local, about the artistic merits of a cow painting… preferably after several beers.
Ivrea Orange Festival
Piemonte, Italy — February
Centuries ago, the people in this town rebelled against an evil count who dragged virgin brides from their homes and deflowered them before their weddings. Not only was he beheaded, even his guards were stoned to death.
Fast forward to the 21st century, an era of strict EU agricultural regulations, where Italy has to destroy its yearly surplus of oranges. Replace stones with the excess fruit and the guards with clowns on chariots, and you’ve got a very juicy celebration indeed.
This is quite possibly the wackiest and funniest way to observe a historical milestone. We’re talking tons of oranges launched by 10,000 partiers!
Best feature: At the end of the festival, a newlywed woman dressed in white — representing the virgin who led the insurrection — showers the people with candy.
Chiang Mai, Thailand — April 13 to 15
The Thai New Year includes no silly paper hats, no fireworks show, and no champagne. The Thai know that a real party begins when 100,000 people show up with massive water guns, water balloons and colored sprinkles.
Just imagine getting soaked five times over and then walking around encased in a rainbow-colored batter. The festival’s roots are quite serious, as the water symbolizes one’s inner cleansing into the next year, but organizers know that a festival is no good if it doesn’t get messy.
Best feature: The “Miss Songkran Contest” caps a fun week featuring beautiful Thai women in traditional dresses.
Moose Dropping Festival
Talkeetna, Alaska — second weekend in July
When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When nature gives you moose poop, drop it on people from hot-air balloons. And that’s what happens in this subarctic town. Craftsmen hawk art and jewelry made from moose dung, and in the end, people in balloons drop big ol’ droppings on numbered targets. Whoever holds the same number as the target, wins.
Shockingly, no one has taken credit for this July event. There’s something oddly fascinating about a town that takes a day to observe the digestive waste of a funny animal. If you go, watch your step… and your head.
Best feature: It’s the only situation where you can win $1,000 for having crap land on something of yours.
Golden Shears Sheep Shearing Festival
Masterton, New Zealand — early March
In a country that has three sheep for every citizen, there’s got to be some kind of party involving the wooly critters. It’s a four-day event where sheep shearers and wool handlers of different ilk and skill levels compete for the most glorious honor in the nation.
In America there’s American Idol . Japan has Iron Chef . But in New Zealand, sheep shearing is the battleground for those seeking fame and fortune. Since it began in 1961, the festival has gotten so huge that sometimes the army is called in to control the crowd.
Best feature: The Wearable Wool Arts Competition, where all creations by New Zealand’s (and therefore the world’s) best sheep shearers are modeled.
Sao Joao Festival
Porto, Portugal — June 23
One of Europe’s liveliest festivals, yet one of the least known, is in Portugal’s second largest city of Porto. Saint John, the patron saint of lovers, watches over as the town gets all lit up, decked out, and the good food flows like sweet Port wine.
Then the hammers come out. No one knows why, but should you meet a member of the opposite sex who stirs your instincts, just whack her in the head with a big plastic hammer.
Best feature: Enjoying some delicious grilled sardines on the street with your newly-whacked babe by your side.
Rayne, Louisiana — Labor Day weekend
To quote from the festival website: “You can bring your own frog or rent one.” That’s right. The progressive Cajun town of Rayne doesn’t like to see anyone left behind. For those too destitute to own their own frog, the city’s Chamber of Commerce will gladly lend them one for a small fee.
But what more could you expect from the Frog Capital of the World? It’s where 50,000 people gather to honor frogs with races, concerts, festival rides… and then eat some. There’s no better place to find out that frog legs really are quite tasty.
Best feature: The picture of you in a frog suit dancing the swamp pop with a bottle of moonshine in your hand is the heirloom of a lifetime.
Cooper’s Hill Annual Cheese Rolling
Gloucester, England — last Monday in May
No radical sport can be truly radical unless the injuries are caused by cheese. We’re talking manly broken bones, brawny sprains and macho bruises as the rewards for chasing a huge block of cheese (about 8 pounds of double Gloucester) down a hill. Now those Brits, they are radical .
Its origins unknown, this Gloucester festival sees about 20 contestants at a time try to beat a rolling cheese 30 yards downhill. Tumbles and trips ensue, and the cheese always wins.
Best feature: If you muster all your strength, your athletic finesse and your unshakeable optimism, and you manage to beat the cheese… you get to keep it.
Buol, Spain — last Wednesday of August
The world’s biggest food fight draws thousands to this small Spanish town, where in the last day of a weeklong festival, trucks unload 90,000 pounds of tomatoes on a drunken crowd. For one hour, all bets are off, and people merrily pelt each other with the ripe red fruit.
Forget what your parents told you about playing with your food. La Tomatina is the messiest, gooiest regression into childhood around. Once the tomatoes are gone and everyone is bloody red, special showers and hoses wash down the revelers.
Best feature: What, throwing tomatoes unabashedly at strangers isn’t enough?