Las Fallas – Valencia Fire Festival (week ending 19 March)
Each day of Las Fallas (Falles in Valencian) there are two firework displays. The first – at 2pm in the afternoon – consists of a cacophany of noisy explosions with lots of smoke. The second – late in the evening – is a large and impressive display of traditional fireworks. There are also brass bands, processions, an enormous floral virgin, and much rowdy partying.
Hundreds of combustible statues are erected, many over six metres tall. They may be provocative, satirical, ugly or grotesque – or simply caricatures of famous people.
On the final evening (the “crema”, or burning), the statues are systematically destroyed. Flaming arrows and explosives are used to set them alight, after which they collapse into massive bonfires. After that, the final firework spectacular takes place and the largest statue (falla) is destroyed, to close the festival.
World Championship Rocky Mountain Oyster Festival (May)
“Mountain Oysters” are bulls’ testicles, also known as “calf fries”. If you can barbecue them better than anyone else, you’ll win the World Championship Rocky Mountain Oyster competition in Throckmorton, Texas.
Apparently, “on the cattle drives of yesteryear the calf fries would be tossed into the branding fire and allowed to cook to perfection … they popped open when they were done.” The oysters are provided by the organizers, and the competition rules require judges to award points for “appearance, tenderness/texture, aroma and taste”.
If mountain oysters are not your style, there is also a “Tastes Like Chicken” competition, where you can cook anything unusual.
The Vogalonga on Venice’s canals (Whitsun/Pentecost)
Once a year there is a massive event held on a circuit through Venice’s lagoon and canals. It’s a 30 km (19 mile) circuit, and is a non-competitive amateur “race”. Anyone may participate on virtually any paddle-powered or oar-propelled boat.
There are thousands of participants, and well over a thousand craft, which provides a chaotic and exciting spectacle.
Cheese-Rolling at Cooper’s Hill (last Monday in May)
Cheese-rolling is a quirky English tradition dating back hundreds of years. The premier event is surely the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, held near Gloucester, in the United Kingdom, each Spring Bank Holiday Monday.
At noon, a round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down the hill, and one second later the competitors start to chase it. The hill, however, is very steep and rough, and many competitors stumble, tumble and slide down the hill in pursuit of the cheese. Further races follow, with “uphill races” in between. If you want to participate, entry is on the day and is free.
Injuries are frequent. The 2008 first race was won by Chris Anderson, who “was stretchered off wearing a neck brace on a spinal board after hurting his back as he finished head over heels”, although no lasting harm was done. Mark Cooper came third in the 2008 second race, before noticing that he had “quite a big hole” in his knee, after which he the St John Ambulance medics patched him up before taking him to hospital where he “spent the next four days having two operations under general anaesthetic”.
The competition is not being held in 2010 due to concerns about crowd management, but the organizers hope to be back in future years.
Summer Solstice at Stonehenge (Around June 20/21)
The ancient monument of Stonehenge in the United Kingdom is part of the human cultural heritage. It’s controlled by English Heritage, who for most of the year keep people away from the stones. You can “look but not touch” from a distance, getting to know the stones from “interpretive displays” in the visitors’ centre rather than by approaching the stones themselves.
But once a year something magic happens. Since 2000, English Heritage has allowed people to visit the stones overnight at the Summer Solstice. You can’t take tents or even sleeping bags (but picnic mats and blankets are OK), and you can’t climb on the stones (but a blind eye is generally turned to hugging them). Drums will be beating in the background, rising to a crescendo at dawn.
Many of the thousands who make this pilgrimage each year have a special place in their heart for the stones, and the atmosphere is truly memorable.