Humans are social beings who love to gather en-masse to celebrate everything from rites of passage to community milestones. This is particularly true of Europeans, who in some cases, have hundreds of years of history backing up their right to celebrate. So, if you find yourself on this continent, aching to experience, shall we say, something less typical than the usual tourist trap or traditional food or music festival and you don’t have a problem chasing things, throwing things, and well, throwing things some more, these 6 annual European food festivals are for you.
6. Rabechilbi Turnip Festival – Richterswil, Switzerland
The turnip, an often neglected root vegetable sure gets its turn in the spotlight during the yearly Rabechilbi Turnip Festival in Richterswil, Switzerland. Dating back to 1905, the festival features the hollowing-out and intricate carving of over 26 tonnes of turnip, equipped with candles that are transformed into glowing floats that parade through the city after dark. Taking place on the 2nd Sunday in November, the glowing lanterns aren’t exclusive to just the parade procession, but rather, the entire city is lit up with finely etched turnips hanging from houses, balconies and the hands of bystanders.
5. Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake – Gloucester, England
As the name suggests, this festival consists of contestants chasing cheese down a really steep hill. Held annually at Cooper’s Hill in Brockworth, England, the event’s coveted prize is a wheel of Double Gloucester cheese (no one really knows why) with the festival garnering such widespread attention that competitors now flock to the site from all over the world. With unknown origins, this May long weekend event has become a town tradition and continues to draw a growing number of spectators, despite rising safety concerns. For those of you that want to experience the British sense of humor and risk your lives (or ankles, or knees) for a piece of cheese, the next “unofficial” cheese chase is on Monday, May 30, 2016.
4. La Tomatina – Bunol, Spain
Spain’s other food-hurling festival, La Tomatina, takes place annually on the last Wednesday in August, and involves the throwing of over 200 metric tonnes of over-ripe tomatoes. Though having no clear historical origins, common speculation suggests that it all began when a town celebration turned ugly with disgruntled townspeople pelting civic leaders with produce. Nevertheless, the festival has gained such popularity that organizers have had to introduce ticket-only participation to curb the hordes of individuals eager to partake in this hour-long tomato battle. The only rules seem to be that tomatoes must be squished pre-throw to reduce impact and prevent injury, and that the in-hand tomato must be dropped the second the water cannon signals the end of battle.
3. Olney Pancake Race – Olney, England
Also a Mardi Gras event, this time in England, the Pancake Race takes place at 11:55 am on Pancake Tuesday and involves scores of women dressed in stereotypical housewife attire and racing each other while holding a pancake-bearing frying pan. Not just a typical race, this event is also about coordination, as competitors must flip the pancake once as they start the race and once again when they are finished to be truly regarded as having completed the run. With a history dating back to 1445 when, legend states, a local housewife heard the start of the Shriving church service while making pancakes and ran to the church, pan in hand, the run is now its 66th year, with no signs of stopping anytime soon.
2. Les Comparses de Vilanova i La Geltru – Vilanova i la Geltru, Spain
Mardi Gras is celebrated in unique ways in many places around the world, and this Spanish town south of Barcelona is no exceptions. One of many Carnival events, the famous Les Compares is a couple’s dance for all ages that culminates in rivals throwing hard candy at each other. In fact, participation has grown so high, with so much candy thrown that one attendee revealed that standing in one place for too long is impossible if you are unwilling to be candied to the sticky payment until the end of time.
1. Battaglia delle Arance (Orange Battle) – Ivrea, Italy
This battle, which takes place during the Italian Carnival season in Ivrea, Italy, involves about 5000 participants dressed in medieval garb throwing oranges at each other. The event commemorates a historic 13th century revolt that at as myth has it, liberated the town from the throes of a tyrannical baron. The Orange Battle aims to mimic that event, with the majority of participants on foot battling it out with throwers in over 50 horse-drawn carts. Why oranges? Well, prior to the 19th century, the battle was re-enacted using beans (seems less painful), but during some of the carnivals of that time, girls would throw oranges (among other things) from their balconies to get boys’ attention, and when they eventually started throwing them back, what started as flirtation turned into a sort of duel. It seems since then, the oranges stuck. Today participants follow an unspoken code of conduct to keep order during the battle, one term of which is that a harder throw signifies a more respected opponent.