Strange holidays


Is there something inherently chauvinistic about pointing out how bizarre, strange or singular the holiday celebrations of others seem? Probably.


Is there something inherently chauvinistic about pointing out how bizarre, strange or singular the holiday celebrations of others seem? Probably.

That’s not going to stop me, though. When asked to cover some “bizarre or unusual” holidays celebrated around our “holiday season”—the season when we bring trees into our homes and turn them into fire hazards; trample unsuspecting minimum wage employees to death in vicious consumer frenzies; and drink, eat and fornicate immoderately in preparation for a better next year—I decided that it was imperative to look outward.

Tihar: Nepal
Nov. 11–15 (in 2012)

In Hindu belief, Lakshmi is the woman with two sets of arms atop the lotus blossom. She is venerated at the peak of Tihar, the Nepalese festival of lights. The preternaturally beautiful celebration spans five colorful days and five strange devotions.

On the first day of Tihar, called Kaag Puja, people set out food for crows. On the next day, Kukur Puja, dogs—including strays—are fed lavishly and decked with beautiful garlands of marigolds. On the third day of Tihar, cows are acknowledged with the best grass and more marigold garlands.

That same night, Lakshmi Puja, the oil lamps are lit for Lakshmi to find a way to each family’s money box. It’s a wonder Trump hasn’t heard about this and gone “trick or treating” in Kathmandu. Later in the evening, everyone gambles! Not at Trump casinos, though.

Day four sounds like a toss-up: either worship oxen, piles of cow pats or your own pretty self. But on day five, brothers and sisters pay each other homage by cooking food and giving gifts. Isn’t that cute?

Guy Fawkes Night: Great Britain
Nov. 5

Being good Anglicized Occupiers, many of you have likely heard of Guy Fawkes Night. But in the interest of not picking only on non-Western cultures (or being horrifically Orientalist, however you read it) it seems reasonable to mention that there is something strange about the U.K.’s four-century grudge against a failed bomb plot perpetrator.

It would be as if in the year 2405 we were burning Timothy McVeigh in effigy every April 19.
What’s specifically strange about this holiday is…everything.

Little children roam the streets in the days before Nov. 5 begging for pennies (now pounds) “for the Guy,” aka the effigy that British youth apparently still build.

People light fireworks, which suggests some kind of ambivalence: Do they really wish the House of Lords had been blown to bits? And, most confounding, the government plays along by having the royal guards search the Houses of Parliament for any would-be bombers.

Busojaras: Mohacs, Hungary
Feb. 7–12 (in 2013)

Busojaras is another multiday festival, but this one seems to go out of its way to wreak havoc on the faculties.

Busojaras begins when all the little girls and boys dress as murderous beggars and run around throwing sawdust and flour over the village women. Then they go out begging for (oh Portland, you are going to love this) bacon. Next, the men come out dressed like goat-y devils in sheepskin and wooden masks and scare all the little children away.

The devils parade around and row boats across the Danube. These men also “may run after hapless females and whack their behinds playfully,” according to Sibylla Putzi’s A to Z World Holidays and Festivals. According to other sources, men’s heads are no safer. Naturally, fun like this is accompanied by pig slaying, boar hunting and hot mulled wine drinking. On second thought, Portland, you might just want to stay in Budapest.

St. Stephen’s Day:
Dec. 26

What’s strange about this holiday is that, being Irish, it is nearly impossible to wrest coherence from it. Despite the “Saint” in the title, by most accounts this festival predates the Christianization of Ireland. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be that “strange,” would it? The holiday also goes by the charming moniker “Wren’s Day.” Less charmingly, it is traditionally a day to hunt wrens.

Saint Stephen is revered as the first Christian martyr—he got stoned (to death) in Jerusalem when he boldly called out the Romans for executing Jesus. According to one Irish yarn, though, Stephen was outed from a hiding spot by a wren. Apparently, wrens had special standing among pagan Celts, who perceived them as traveling freely between here and the otherworld, which brought them antipathy from early Christians.

Traditionally, young men would dress in face paint and straw costumes or motley and go house to house, with a wren in a box at the top of a pole decorated with holly bough, to collect money for a celebration.

By other accounts, wrens were nailed to the pole. Again, disdainful of the competition, the church attempted to eradicate Wren’s Day celebrations in the early 20th century, but it is now making a resurgence, minus the wren slaughter. Delightful St. Stephen’s Day festivals can be found in Dublin; Listowel, County Kerry; Carrigaline, County Cork; Enniskerry, County Wicklow.