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  • Writer's pictureGunnar Garfors

25 Strange Customs and Traditions Around the World

Snow ball fights cannot really compete. Tomatoes are the new weapons of choice.

A big part of travelling is turning your head. To observe strange customs, to admire people in traditional outfits, to gasp at breathtaking sights or to try to understand why the hell people do what they do. But some strange customs are stranger than others.

Guest post by: Lily Evans

Several wonderful places in the world have long been known for their strange practices and traditions. Those who are merely passing through these places might consider these customs to be taboo or inhumane. But those who care to look for the meaning behind these beliefs usually appreciate them, despite their strangeness. 

I have gathered 25 seemingly strange, crazy or mad traditions from around the world. Please let me know if you know of others that belong here.   1. Teeth tossing in Greece: Some cultures pop children’s teeth under their pillows and wait for a swap with cold hard cash by a fairy. Others throw a baby’s recently liberated tooth on their roofs. 2. Baby Jumping in Spain: Residents in a small Northern Community take part in baby jumping, called El Colacho, to keep the devil at bay. Men dressed as the devil run between and jump over infants, who are laid on mattresses along the streets.

3. Avoiding using red ink in South Korea: Based on their history and customs, red ink was used to write down names of dead people. It is therefore considered a taboo to write someone’s name in red.

4. Initiation custom in Brazil: It is strange how young boys prove their bravery and strength. In the Satare Mawe tribe they showcase the courage by placing hands in a basket filled with angry bullet ants. The bites are real pain.

5. The Monkey Buffet Festival in Thailand: Some people might be surprised to be looking at some monkeys atop a buffet table, feasting on sumptuous dishes.  In this annual festivity, over 3000 kgs of fruits and vegetables are fed to several monkeys that dwell in Lopburi, Bangkok.

I am in ketchup heaven!

6. Tomato craze in Spain: La Tomatina is the biggest tomato fight that exists. It is a strange culture among the Valencians in Bunol where tomatoes are used as weapons. Snowball fights are so last year.

7. The Polterabend custom in Germany: Just before couples are wed, their families and close friends meet for an informal affair. Then, all guests are requested to break things such as dinner wares and flower vases, anything except glasses. As soon as the entire place is in disarray, the couples should clear up the broken things. This tradition shows the couple the significance of being united and of hard work, which is necessary to make their marriage work. At least they are in for a hell of a start. Things can only improve from here.

8. Witches’ Night in the Czech Republic: Prague has more than its fair share of rituals and traditions, one of which sees young lovers jump over the dying embers of bonfires. Single men are also encouraged, on this day, to leave tokens of freshly cut branches on the doorstep of the women of the affections. It was once believed that the evil powers on this evening, which falls in between the ancient feast days of St. Jacob and St. Phillip, were far stronger than normal and that for this evening only they ruled over the good. Flocks of witches riding broomsticks were said to soar the skies, and the Czechs believed that the bonfires would bring them down in flames. Nowadays the celebration is far more light-hearted, and the biggest bonfire in the country takes place in the center of the Czech capital. 

Let’s hope they didn’t use tattoo ink.

9. The Blackening and Henna weddings in muslim countries: A strange culture in Islam where women from the bride’s family surround her and paint designs on her feet, arms and hands to symbolize womanhood, provide fertility and luck to the woman. This happens two days before the wedding. Like tattooes, just not permanent.

10. Bushido and Seppuku of Japan: Bushido has remained the warrior code that emphasizes loyalty, strength, and integrity. Seppuku is the ritual suicide, which is an alternative to defeat. This strange custom continues up to today where it is considered better to commit it rather than surrender. 

11. Camel wrestling in Turkey: Many spectators are delighted to watch two male camels fight. Even though there are no injuries that afflict the animals, as with cock fighting, or the audience, as with bull running in Spain. Still, people are asked to stay away from the camels throughout the wrestling match. Agitated camels tend to discharge saliva with a sticky texture and a disgusting smell. 

12. The Haka in New Zealand: The Maori practices a way of spectating that involves grunting, menacing facial expressions, loud chanting, stomping, guttural howling, tongue wagging and chest thumping. It may sound like a guy trying to pick up a girl in western nightclubs, but it is meant to strike fear and awe into the opponents. 

13. Welcome drinks in Fiji: You may have noticed this when you were welcomed to the Pacific nation. Guests are served a strange earthy cocktail made from squeezing roots and served in a wooden bowl or bucket. It’s called Kava, but cannot in anyway compare to the Spainsh bubbles. Kava is considered narcotics in many countries, although a very mild one.

14. Blubbing Brides in China: Brides cry for about a month, which is considered part of the wedding preparations. This culture is still observed by the Fuji living in Wuling Mountains. I guess it beats crying for a month after the wedding. 

Not your normal kind of dentist.

15. Tooth filling in Indonesia: In Bali, a rather peculiar ritual is performed by both genders before marriage. They fill two teeth. It is done to keep any evil forces or characteristics such as greed, lust, anger, stupidity, confusion, jealousy and intoxication away from the couple. None of the above? Sounds bloody boring to me.

16. Antzar Eguna in Spain: This well-known tradition means “The Day of the Geese.” On this occasion, a goose is covered with grease and is tied very high above a body of water. Gentlemen then try to get a hold of the goose as they jump from their boat. The objective is to rip off the goose’s head, as they grab it. An act that should sort of disqualify them from being called “Gentlemen”, I’d say. This competition is a test of their strength, endurance, and agility, which would make them eligible to wed the woman they adore. However, the custom is no longer practiced using a live goose, because of animal rights concerns. Additionally, The Day of the Geese is merely practiced in Lekeitio, as part of the feast in San Antolin.

17. Foot binding in China: Young girls were compelled to go through the painful process of foot binding. For almost a thousand years, the Chinese thought that small feet were marks of beauty and desirability among girls. This perception caused the Chinese men and women to intentionally restrict the girls’ feet from growing bigger by binding them. In the late 1940’s, this tradition was stopped because of the debilitating experience that young Chinese girls suffered from.

18. The Nag Panchami festival in India: This festival is all about worshipping snakes that are specially gathered for the occasion. It is celebrated in the rural areas Maharashtra and in certain temples. During Nag Panchami, people dance to the music carrying snakes in pots which are placed on their head and join the procession towards the temple. After chants and prayers, the snakes are sprinkled with a mixture of turmeric and red powder and offered a mix of honey and milk, after which they are released into the temple courtyard. Even though some of the most venomous snakes, including cobras, are used in the ritual, people suffering from snake bites is almost unheard of. Perhaps they know what they are doing.

19. Burial Ritual in Brazil and Venezuela: When a person of the Tanomani tribe dies, his or her body is burnt. The bone and ash powder is mixed into a plantain soup that the people attending will drink. They believe that this pleases the dead soul as it finds a resting place in their bodies.

Cry wolf.

20. Krampuslauf in Austria, Bavaria, and Switzerland: Krampuslauf is the scary, devil-like creatures called Krampus that carries cow bells, clank chains and rides through the streets of the Alpine regions scaring children and adults. Traditionally, young men dress as the Krampus and are accompanied by ‘Nikolaus’, or Santa. The Krampuslauf typically occurs in the first two weeks of December, although December 5 is the most favored date. In rural areas the Krampuslauf traditions sometimes include giving those unfortunate enough to be caught by the Krampus a light birching. The Krampus monsters are often linked to legends of succubus and incubus, the nocturnal, sexually predatory demons. The modern costume typically used on Krampuslauf consists of red wooden masks, black sheep’s skin and horns. The masks are typically hand-carved, and many people enjoy Krampuslauf competitions, competing for titles such as ‘best costume’ and ‘most scary’. The word Krampus has its origins in the old German word ‘Krampen’ which means, ‘Claw’. Many believe Krampuslauf to be a pre-Christian festival, drawing on pagan influences which have survived due to the isolated nature of the Alpine region.

21. Piercings in India: It is strange how Hindus show their devotion to the Lord through piercing their body parts including the tongue. This custom ritual, the Hindu Thaipusam Piercings, is bloody but colorful. And looks painful as hell. not for the faint-hearted.

A rather gruesome tradition.

22. Burning witches in the Czech Republic: Some of us celebrate the end of winter with a spring clean, while others take to the streets in elaborate carnival outfits for Mardi Gras. People here celebrate the temperate season in an entirely different way, by burning a hag on a bonfire. On the last night of April, many Czechs gather around hillside bonfires to celebrate Paleni Carodejnic, the annual burning of witches. To keep the hags at bay, the locals burn their broomsticks and huge effigies of witches and hags, which are similar in appearance to the Guy Fawkes burnt in England on Bonfire Night. 

23. Sardine burial in Tenerife: A custom tradition among Spaniards is actually burying a sardine, with a funeral procession of mourners in black. It mostly occurs at the highly spirited moments in the Christian calendar such as lent and the advent period.

24. Mudras among Hindus and Buddhists: Seals, gestures or marks are put on people, in the belief that they will help the individuals control the flow of life. They think that the energy (prana) will improve focus to achieve specific goals.

25. Bayanihan in the Philippines: This custom involves the practice of moving the entire home to a new location. Villagers gather, lift up the home and carry it over quite a long distance. It also happens during predicted floods or landslides. This tradition is probably as close as we will ever get to being snails, carrying their houses on their backs. These customs are some of the strange and bizarre practices in some of the most wonderful places in the world. They may seem absurd but the natives believe or believed that their practices permitted them to learn essential values and lessons in life.

Next time you see something strange, do by all means turn your head, but please don’t jump to the conclusion that people are crazy, mad or stupid. They may have very good reasons for their actions.

Or they may just have had a little bit too much to drink.

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