February may be the year’s shortest month, but it’s packed worldwide with activities and traditions that celebrate — among other things — peace, tranquility, and the arrival of a sea worm. Read on to find out more about some of the history, spirit, and sentiment behind five of the world’s most interesting festivals. So much for Valentine’s Day.
Argungu Fishing Festival — Nigerian state of Kebbi, Mid-February
The culmination of this festival is so unusual and entertaining that I see a Discovery Channel show in the works. Bare-handed fishing frenzy, anyone? Created as a peace-building contest between two peoples in 1934, this festival has largely remained unchanged since its inception. Here, 35,000 fishermen, in pairs, race into the Malan Fada River armed only with traditional nets and gourds for flotation in their attempt to catch the largest fish and win approximately $8,000 (and a mini bus). By no means is it light work: 50 kilogram fish are routinely pulled from the river.
Battaglia delle Arance — Ivrea, Italy, Mid-February
Orange you glad you’re only reading about this instead of getting pelted with citrus fruit? This celebration, as part of the town of Ivrea’s carnival, is among the juiciest of those around the world — literally. For three days, nine teams use the occasion to hurl approximately 400,000kg of oranges at each other. This riotous event has roots in the 12th century, but it wasn’t until the early 1800s that Napoleon ordered the brawling be carried out with oranges instead of the previous, more dangerous objects. Now you know the guy also started to help the largest food fight in Italy.
Taiwan Lantern Festival — Zhongxing New Village, Taiwan, Mid-February
I would be remiss to make a list of February festivals and not mention this one. Arguably one of the world’s most beautiful festivals, the Taiwan Lantern Festival is on par with Munich’s Oktoberfest, Hokkaido’s Snow Festival and Brazil’s Carnival in terms of name recognition and international clout. Here, thousands of visitors and spectators mark the finale of the Lunar New Year by lighting firecrackers, torches, and hand lanterns that illuminate the night and welcome the calendar change, with the design of the main lantern centered around the Chinese zodiac animal of the upcoming year.
Pasola — Sumba, Indonesia, February and March
Combined with (and following) Bau Nyale, the ritual celebration of the arrival of sea worms on the island, Pasola is quite the festival. In this mock battle celebration, opponents charge at each other on horseback and throw blunt spears designed to harm or unseat the other. Once fallen, horses or opponents can’t be attacked, but a fair amount of blood is nonetheless shed. Still, the spilling of blood isn’t seen as all bad: traditional beliefs opine that the blood fertilizes the soil, thus benefiting the next harvest.
Saidai-ji Eyō — Saidai-ji, Japan, Early February
Though this festival is often referred to as a naked one, participants wear loincloths. Still, a loincloth isn’t much when freezing water is being poured over you and you’re fighting with approximately 10,000 near-naked men for possession of two sacred wooden sticks. Origins of this festival lie in the 16th century, and the rituals observed remain largely the same. To “win,” competitors must deliver the sticks back to the temple gates.
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