weird holidays

Although the internet has created the ability to instigate trends such as “Talk Like a Pirate Day” or “National Ice Cream Day,” it has also given rise to global communication, enabling the exchange of cultural traditions and celebrations. Explore the history and heritage of these four “weird” holiday traditions from around the world, and discover ways to highlight and celebrate the beauty of cultural diversity in your own household. Alternatively, consider traveling to these destinations and stay for the holiday to experience these cultural celebrations first hand. 

La Vijanera – Spain

La Vijanera Spain
Photo by Wikipedia / License

The first carnival of the year in Europe is celebrated in Silió, a village set in Cantabria, Spain. The first Sunday of the year celebrates the transition of the new year with good omens, and the warding off of evil spirits.

The spectacle is a participatory event with the attending crowds dressing as a variety of colorful characters based on the function and symbolism of local lore. The most prominent characters, however, are those dressed with sheepskins, jingling cowbells, and tall, conical weevil’s hats, with their faces painted black. These characters are “los zarramacos,” one of the most important roles, as it is their duty to ward off and expel the evil spirits of the town.

The procession moves throughout the city as a parade, with participants interacting as a community-wide theatrical performance. The celebration eventually gathers in the town square for the reading of “coplas” or verses, in language that ranges from jocular to cruel. These verses critique and dictate the occurrences of the past year, both locally and internationally. 

The celebration nears its end with “la Preña” — the calve, or the birth of the new year, and concludes with the death of the bear. The bear is a participant in the costume of a bear, who’s theatrical death symbolizes the triumph of good over evil and a desire for good intentions for the new year.

Northern Spain Kicks Off the New Year in Style

The fiesta and masquerade, one of the oldest festivals in Cantabria, La Vijanera, predates Roman colonization with entities of nature and mythology. The impact of the Roman empire resonates with the integration of the Roman god Janus, whose name is representative of the transition from one year to the next. The festival itself offers a reflection of the previous year, while setting positive and good intentions for the year to come. 

Celebrating La Vijanera

Celebrating the coming of the new year by setting good intentions and ritualistically banishing evil spirits can be done anywhere.  Though it might not equate to the complete experience of submerging into the yearly transition in Silió. 

The holiday celebrations in Silió are vibrant and immersive, so it may be nice to enjoy a hotel that incorporates one of the natural hot springs of Asturias. Asturias is a short trip away from Silió, and yet another major tourist destination. It is best to book early, at least three weeks in advance, for the best price on airfare.

Holi – India

Holi India
Photo by Mary Newcombe / License

The celebration of Holi is widely known for the saturated clouds of pigment and color streaked faces in the crowded streets of India. However, the Hindu celebration has deep traditional roots, and ranges in practice and style by region. 

The most common celebration begins the night before on Holia Dahan, when Hindus light symbolic effigies to commemorate the religious legend of the demise of Holika, the demoness, and the miraculous survival of Prahlad from the pyre from the help of Lord Vishnu. The survival of Prahlad and fall of Holika through the intervention of Lord Vishnu is celebrated through the holiday as a symbol of good over evil, promising that devotees will be rewarded with salvation.

The Festival of Colors

The day following the burning of the effigies hosts the iconic pigment, or “glula,” celebration that ranges across the entirety of the caste system in remembrance and celebration of Krishna, an incarnation of Vishnu. 

The colorful celebration is a reminder of a legend of Krisna, who, jealous of his sister Radha’s complexion, complained to his mother. His mother jokingly responded that Krishna ought to paint Radha’s face, which he lovingly did as a prank. The transcendence of love is celebrated through the multihued pigments and water. The selected colors, in India’s most colorful festival also hold cultural significance; red — love, fertility, and matrimony, blue — the color of Krisna, and green — for new beginnings.

Celebrating Holi

This highly significant event is religious in nature and should be celebrated with the respect due to honor its history and important cultural roots. There are, however, ways to respectfully pay homage by sharing folklore that surround the traditions, and enjoying a colorful powder celebration that inspires and creates bonding time for the whole family. 

The New Year Monigote Burning – Ecuador & Cuba 

monigote ecuador
Photo by Joe Ross / License

In parts of Latin America, such as Ecuador and Cuba, people celebrate New Year’s Eve by burning effigies, or “monigotes.” These effigies are made to represent the past year, a political figure, or a figure of cultural significance, even including superheroes or cartoon characters. The “monigotes” may be homemade and scarecrow-like — clothes filled with sawdust, with a mask, or purchased from local stores. Additionally, the effigy typically has a sign tied around their neck that offers humourous or regretful expressions about the past year.

El Año Viejo

El Año Viejo, or The Old Year, is an Ecuadorian or Cuban tradition that celebrates and welcomes the new year. The creation of an effigy of the old year and lighting it on fire at midnight represents the letting go of the past year and a welcoming of the new one. The burnings may make a political statement, such as the creation of an effigy of the likeness of a disliked politician, and a sign hung around the neck of the effigy with a political statement or initials. 

Celebrating the Monigote Tradition

Traditions like this are best experienced from the point of origin, and it is always possible to escape to a hotel in Varadero Beach and then roam the city streets enjoying the cultural sights of festivities and burning “monigotes.” For those looking to be more active participants, consider designing and creating an effigy of your own. Its design can be personally or politically significant events or regrets of the past year. It is best to check with local laws before participating in the burning of the effigy at midnight to avoid any legal complications.

El Carnaval de la Vega – Dominican Republic

Carnaval de la Vega Dominican Republic
Photo by PresidenciaRD / License

Every weekend in February, celebrations erupt in the streets of the Dominican Republic. One of the oldest and most popular traditions and festivals is El Carnaval de la Vega. The theme revolves around good over evil, and began as a religious activity to celebrate the time before lent. This month-long festival includes live music, costumes, food, drinks, pageants for Miss Carnaval Vegano, the crowning of the King of the festival, and a closing parade every Sunday.

Carnaval Vegano

The history of the Dominican Republic Carnival includes proof found in the Ruins of the Old Fertile Valley, near the present town of La Vega. However, by the 1500s the celebration had incorporated Christianity, and by the 1700s the carnival had become a major celebration, one of the first places in the Americas to observe the pre-Lenten carnival custom. On February 27th, 1844, the festival adopted the inclusion of the celebration of Dominican independence. 

Celebrating El Carnaval de la Vega

Though the festival runs all month long and is celebrated in many provinces, including specific celebrations in Punta Cana, Santiago, Santo Domingo, and La Vea, the largest celebration is El Carnaval de la Vega. Some of the smaller festivals may only last one weekend, which may be perfect for a quick holiday getaway in a Punta Cana Hotel, with an immersive and authentic cultural experience to boot. 

For those wishing to partake in the celebrations, visitors can learn more about the folklore, history, and traditions of the Dominican Republic. They may design costumes incorporating traditional elements into the design of their projects to use during a get-together on February 27th, or any weekend of the month.

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