Now that most places are opening up again, many people are eager to get out of their ruts and see new things. Cultural traditions that have lasted hundreds or thousands of years are a unique experience that will stick with you forever. If you want to feed your imagination and get your fill of weird and wondrous, these are the summer festivals to visit. We’ve chosen a few traditions that are popular, but not always heard about in the U.S. As of the date of this post they are slated to happen in 2021, but you should check with the official sites to find out about attendance limits and other details.
Attribution: Oliver Benton, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
The Burryman Procession, South Queensbury, Scotland
The Burry Man, covered in an outfit of prickly burdock seed heads, has been making this procession for over 900 years. No one is quite sure how this tradition started, but every second Friday in August, the Burry Man roams the streets of Queensbury, drinking whiskey, receiving money, and spreading good luck. His procession may have originated as a harvest tradition, but now it’s more like a pub crawl with pagan flavor.
You can follow the Burry Man on his 9-hour trek through the streets and pubs of Queensbury and even add some burrs to his outfit. The more you participate, the more good luck will rub off. The official website for the festival calls the Burryman Procession “the oddest tradition in Edinburgh.” We can’t disagree, but it might also be one of the best days to get out and experience Scottish beverages and culture. Get there before the procession to enjoy the Ferry Fair Festival, a town party held during the second week of August. It feels a bit like a town days celebration in the States with decorated storefronts, floats and motorcades, and a slate of activities the whole week. The festival culminates with adorable local children being crowned fair Queens. You’ll be treated to plenty of live Scottish music as you roam the streets sipping your beverage of choice.
The Baal Fire and Kern Baby in Whalton, England
The village of Whalton is the only English village that still celebrates the once common midsummer festival of Baal fire. On July 4th, every year, the villagers light a bonfire, and children hold hands and dance around it. Up until the early 1900s, this was a common midsummer celebration throughout England. It dates back to early times when people celebrated the sun’s seasonal movements with fires and festivities. While you’re in Whalton, you can also see the fifteen foot tall Kern Baby statue that has called the village home since 2015.
The Kern Baby was a large doll in the form of a woman made from the last of the grain gathered during the previous year’s harvest. She was dressed in clothing and burned in the Baal fire at midsummer. The Kern Baby tradition had not been practiced in Whalton since 1903, but in 2015 artist Faye Claridge created a fifteen-foot tall version of her to be displayed year-round in Whalton. She is, of course, not burned in the Baal fire, but the villagers always include her in the Baal fire celebration.
You can find out more about the village of Whalton and their Baal fire festivities here.
Gion Matsuri, Kyoto, Japan
Japan is known for its festivals, and Gion Matsuri might be one of the best. This month-long festival is held in July every year at the Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto. The festival is best known for its float processions and pedestrian street fair. Two main parades called the Yamaboko Junko occur in mid to late July. These spectacles feature groups of people carrying heavy floats decorated with lavish tapestries from Nishijin. During the nights leading up to the parades, Kyoto’s downtown is reserved for pedestrians and filled with street vendors and festival games.
The Gion Matsuri festival has been going on for 1200 years! It’s thought that it originated in the 9th century as a purification ritual to appease the gods who cause fire, earthquakes, and floods. At that time, the heavy rains that are common in the region during July often caused flooding that led to outbreaks of disease. It was believed that angry gods were causing the illness, and the Gion Matsuri traditions were born to prevent future summertime epidemics. By the 14th century, the festival had morphed into a combination of spiritual purification and a way for merchants, who were kept at the bottom of the social hierarchy, to flaunt their wealth (hence the beautiful floats). Now it attracts visitors from all over the world, and it’s a great way to have fun and learn about Japanese culture.
You can get all the details here.
Kandy Esala Perahera
This festival, held in Kandy, Sri Lanka, has been called the most beautiful festival in Asia and the most spectacular Buddhist festival in the world. It revolves around ancient Buddhist and Hindu religious traditions that have to do with an important Buddhist relic and the local temples to Natha, Vishnu, Kataragama, and Pattini, known as the four guardian deities. The celebrations take place in the month of Esala, the western month it falls in depends on the year. This year the festival begins on August 14 and ends on August 24th. The purpose of the festival is to beseech the gods to send rain and a good harvest.
Every night of the ten day celebration features an elaborate parade. During one of the parades a tooth from the Buddha that has been in Sri Lanka for 1700 years is processed through the streets. The parades include fire eaters, dancers, and elaborately dressed elephants. The festivities get more fevered every night and culminate in a spectacular parade and street party. You can also witness fascinating ceremonies like the planting of the sanctified young jackfruit tree and the water cutting ceremony. If you make it to this fabulous celebration, make sure to stay for several days to get the full experience.
You can find out more here.
The world is full of magical celebrations that have been going on for hundreds or even thousands of years. If you are looking for a novel experience closer to home, check out Castle of Chaos. We have escape rooms in Salt Lake City open and ready to thrill year-round.