Three holidays not for the faint of heart

Published 8:59 am Thursday, March 10, 2011

For the majority of us we have a particular holiday we can’t wait for each year.

Many anxiously wait for Christmas or Thanksgiving while others enjoy spring time and summer holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and the Fourth of July. Whatever your favorite holiday, it’s typically filled with fun, family and friends.

There’s always a sense of tradition with holidays, a want to carry on the values and rituals those before us have passed down through the generations.

For the most part we understand why we celebrate certain days of the year, whether it be for religious or historical reasons, but there are holidays in different countries that might make you scratch your head.

In Bolivia each May, thousands descend on the small towns of Macha and Potosi where the Tinku Festival takes place. The word “tinku” in the Quechua language translates to encounter or meeting. However, the activities that take place during the Tinku Festival are a little more involved that just a “meeting.”

The event has a nickname of “Punch Your Neighbor Festival,” and rightly so, as those who attend batter one another with their bare hands. That’s right, the whole celebration is about “meeting” your fist with someone else’s face.

The participants begin the activities simply enough with a little wine and some dancing, but soon enough the celebration turns rough as men (and sometimes women) pair up to slug it out as the crowd chants around them.

While some might want to go easy on their fellow man, for the most part the consensus is the more blood spilt the better. The ritual correlates to Andean indigenous people’s worship of Pachamama (or Mother Nature), a fertility goddess who presides over planting and harvesting. Therefore, split blood will ensure a good harvest.

Another strange holiday takes place in Ivrea, Italy during the month of February.

Keeping with a violent theme here, The Battle of the Oranges is just what it reads like and is considered the largest food fight in the European country.

During the carnival, thousands of participants (separated in nine teams) take to the streets of the northern Italian town and throw oranges at each other.

The Battle of the Oranges reportedly derives from the townspeople’s uprising against a tyrant Count that attempted to rape a young commoner. The victim reportedly defended herself and killed the Count. The townspeople later raided and torched his palace.

Each January in English town of Whittlesey, the Straw Bear Festival has men looking their best in, well, straw.

The festival is held after Plough Monday (the first Monday following Epiphany), which signified the end of the holiday season and the resumption of everyday work.

Traditionally, on Plough Monday a plough was hauled house to house and money was collected. The procession often included musicians and an individual dressed up as an old woman called “the Bessy” accompanied by a man acting as “the fool.”

Keeping in tradition of foolishness, during the Straw Bear Festival men dress up as straw bears, a conventional character in carnival processions.

The men either don a pre-made straw bear costume or wrap themselves in straw. In the end it makes those haystacks in a field just THAT much scarier.

Amanda VanDerBroek is a Staff Writer for the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald. For comments and column suggestions email: or call (252) 332-7209.