Fascinating Holidays Around the World You’ve Never Heard Of
Who doesn’t love a holiday — and the time away from day-to-day routines to enjoy festivities? While most holidays follow a common theme (a nation’s birthday, an important historical event, a religious observance), other holidays celebrate something a bit stranger. From South Korea’s Alphabet Day to the Jarramplas of Spain, here are some of the most ridiculous holidays and fascinating celebrations from around the world that you might not have heard of.
Turkmenistan: Melon Day
In 1994, three years after Turkmenistan gained independence from the Soviet Union, then-president Saparmurat Niyazov established a national holiday known as Melon Day to honor the fruit’s agricultural importance to the region. The Central Asian country grows upwards of 500 varieties of muskmelons, including the popular cantaloupe and honeydew. While these are indeed included in the celebrations, the real star of the show is a specially-grown crossbred variety known as the “Turkmenbashi” melon — named after the President’s self-appointed moniker, which means “Leader of All the Turkmen.” President Niyazov was no stranger to celebrating himself; he instituted a national holiday for his own birthday, but the February 19 holiday was canceled a year after his late-2006 death. Melon Day is celebrated with melon displays, concerts, parades, and melon-growing competitions.
United States: National Punctuation Day
If you’re the kind of person who can’t help but point out errant apostrophes wherever you go, you’re going to want to mark September 24 on your calendar. National Punctuation Day was started in 2004 by American writer and speaker Jeff Rubin to celebrate those all-important but often overlooked marks— commas, periods, colons — that separate sentences and clarify meaning in the written word. Each year, Rubin encourages people who partake in the celebration to send in photos of punctuation errors caught in the wild — whether on signs, websites, or even restaurant menus — and rewards them with National Punctuation Day commemorative gifts as well as a copy of The Elements of Style.
Japan: KFC Christmas
Christmas is celebrated in different ways all around the world, and in some cases, like Japan, it’s not celebrated much at all. But that doesn’t mean the Japanese haven’t found their own way to partake in the holiday season — with a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken. Each year, about 3.6 million people join in the Christmas Eve or Christmas Day holiday meal, which consists of a bucket (known in Japan as a “party barrel”) of golden fried chicken pieces, cake, wine, and fixin’s. The tradition started in the 1970s, when the manager of the first KFC in Japan conceived the “party barrel” as a way to cater to foreigners who missed big, home-cooked Christmas dinners. It’s been a phenomenon ever since, and if you don’t place your order weeks in advance, there’s a chance you might have to stand in a line for hours or even miss out altogether.
Bermuda: Bermuda Day
Leave it to Bermuda to have a national holiday that honors the unofficial kickoff of summer. Bermuda Day takes place on the last Friday of May, continuing throughout the weekend and culminating in a parade full of elaborate costumes, floats, bands, and performances from Gombey troupes — the masked Bermuda folk dancers who celebrate the island’s African and Caribbean cultures. Bermuda Day originated as Empire Day, celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday on May 24, but has come to represent Bermuda’s independent heritage — and, of course, the start of summer’s warmer temperatures. That means Bermuda shorts can now be worn as business attire (yes, really), and the ocean is finally a suitable temperature for swimming.
Korea: Alphabet Day
Both North and South Korea acknowledge the origins of the Korean alphabet on specially designated holidays to celebrate the Hunminjeongeum, meaning “proper sounds to instruct the people.” The Hunminjeongeum was the book that outlined the principles of the new Korean writing system. North Korea’s alphabet day, Chosongul, is observed on January 15, the day that the Hunminjeongeum is believed to have been completed in 1444. In South Korea, Hangeul Proclamation Day is celebrated on October 9 to mark the day in 1446 that the Hunminjeongeum was declared the official writing system for Koreans. The unique alphabet, now known as Hangeul, was a major victory for the people of Korea. Prior to its invention, they primarily wrote using Chinese characters, but due to language differences, it proved extremely hard to learn and was accessible to only the most privileged. Hangeul was commissioned by King Sejong the Great and was designed to be easy to learn.
Canada: Family Day
The third Monday in February is a holiday that many Canadians spend with their families. However, Family Day isn’t an official national holiday and it doesn’t have any specific history or traditions. Instead, starting in 1990, it was adopted slowly and in different ways by provinces across the country as a way to break up the long, cold, holiday-less stretch between New Year’s and Easter. (And in Ontario’s case, it was an election promise.) The holiday isn’t observed as Family Day everywhere, though. On Prince Edward Island, it’s called Islander Day; in Manitoba, it’s Louis Riel Day; and in Nova Scotia and Yukon, it’s called Heritage Day. The provinces of Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, along with the territories Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, do not observe the February holiday.
Maslenitsa, also (and more deliciously) known as butter week or pancake week, is a traditional Russian holiday and folk festival that takes place before the start of Russian Orthodox Lent. The holiday week is defined by gluttonous consumption of blini — Russian pancakes — and other buttery goodies in preparation for the weeks of Lent and fasting to follow. Maslenitsa, which has pagan roots, originated with Slavic sun worshippers and celebrated the end of winter and beginning of spring; warm pancakes and their round, golden shape symbolized the sun. Besides eating endless pancakes, Russians also celebrate with festival staples such as music, sleigh rides, and fireworks. And, of course, there are Maslenitsa-specific spectacles such as dancing bears, and the burning of a straw man (straw woman, actually) effigy at the end.
Australia: Picnic Day
On the first Monday of August, residents of Australia’s Northern Territory celebrate Picnic Day, a public holiday that encourages family leisure time. Picnic Day originated in the town of Adelaide River as a holiday for railway workers. While some picnic events in the region have roots as far back as the 1800s, the day as Northern Aussies now know it was started in earnest in the 1920s. After a decade-long pause, the holiday resumed in 1936 when a special train was chartered to transport people from the Territory’s capital, Darwin, to Adelaide River, and it has continued every year since. Along with food and drink, public Picnic Day celebrations include traditional games such as tug-o-war, three-legged races, and egg-and-spoon races, as well as several horse races.
Every year, on January 20, Spain honors the early Christian martyr St. Sebastian on his feast day. But in the western village of Piornal, a whole other celebration is taking place — the bizarre and passionately embraced Jarramplas festival. Each year, a young man from the village is chosen to dress up as the devil-like creature. Donning a mask, long horns, and a vibrantly colorful patchwork of fabric strips, the Jarramplas marches through the streets banging a drum until locals arrive and start pelting him with thousands of turnips. (Worry not — there are layers of protective gear under that costume.) There are several theories about the origin of the tradition, some of which are religious in nature, one that has to do with fertility, and one that supposes it’s an ancient ritual signifying the end of winter. But none of the stories are sound to local anthropologists, and so it remains a mystery. Playing the role of the Jarramplas is a highly sought-after honor in Piornal, with parents signing their newborn babies up in advance, adding them to a waitlist that is reportedly more than 20 years long.
New Year’s celebrations are typically loud, flashy, and indulgent. In Bali, Indonesia, Nyepi — New Year’s Day in the Balinese Saka Calendar — is a time for total silence. Nyepi, which actually means “to keep silent,” is a Hindu holiday that occurs in March on the day after the spring equinox’s dark moon, when the day and night start to become the same length. It’s a mandatory day of reflection, fasting, and meditation on the Indonesian island; streets are patrolled by security, and even the airport in the capital city of Denpasar suspends all flights in and out for the 24-hour observance. But the day and night before Nyepi, locals get all the celebrating out of their systems, with parades, fireworks, and raucous rituals intended to drive away any evil spirits before the holiday.
Australia: Melbourne Cup Day
The Melbourne Cup is a beloved Aussie horse race, one so important to Melbourne that the race day was made a public holiday for the city (as well as other locations throughout the state of Victoria) in 1873. Although a holiday for a horse race might sound a bit absurd, consider the race’s significance to locals: Over 100,000 people, many of whom dress in their best formalwear, descend on the Flemington Racecourse every year, and an additional broadcast audience of about 650 million watch from around the world. The Cup, which has been taking place since 1861, is considered a more popular and unifying day for Australians than most secular holidays. Offices and other places of work fall completely silent come competition time as the entire country — not just the regions that celebrate it as an official holiday — watch “the race that stops a nation.”
United States: National Unfriend Day
We have late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel to thank for National Unfriend Day, an honorary holiday set aside for tidying up your social media feed. Every year since 2010, on November 17, Kimmel encourages people to look at their Facebook friends list and decide whether it’s time to remove some of those old ties. Maybe it’s someone from your childhood who never uses the social media site anymore anyway (or even worse, someone who uses it far too much), an ill-informed relative, or a friend-of-a-friend who you met nine years ago at an acquaintance’s wedding and haven’t spoken to since. Communications professionals approve of the holiday, seeing it as a chance for people to step back and take a more mindful approach to the way they engage with social media platforms. Research has shown that humans can only handle about 150 relationships in their lives, anyway, so if you’re staring down a bloated 900-person friends list, it might indeed be a good time to cull.
South Korea: Black Day
Black Day is a time for sad, single South Koreans to dress in all black, get together, and drown their lonely sorrows in a dish called jajangmyeon, which is noodles that have been doused in a black bean paste sauce. It’s related to the more traditional customs of Valentine’s Day (February 14), when women give men gifts primarily consisting of chocolate, as well as the South Korean follow-up, White Day (happening one month later on March 14), when men reciprocate the gifts. If you didn’t receive gifts on either of the lovey-dovey days, then Black Day is your time to shine — or rather, mope on April 14.
Spain: La Tomatina
On the last Wednesday in August, tens of thousands of people gather in the streets of the small Valencian town of Buñol to joyously throw over-ripe tomatoes at each other in one of Spain’s most beloved celebrations. It’s been classified as the world’s biggest food fight, leaving the streets teeming with tomato juice and stained with seeds and pulp for days, taking the power of a fire truck to hose it all down afterward. As the story goes, La Tomatina started by accident: On a late August afternoon in 1945, a parade turned messy when an angry crowd began throwing tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stand. The tradition continued for years afterward, suffering some hiccups along the way with temporary bans. It exploded in popularity in the early 1980s after a report ran on a popular Spanish news magazine show, “Informe Semanal.” Today, there is a cap on attendance, with a whopping 22,000 people allowed to take part in the tomato fight.
Iceland: Beer Day
Beer Day, known as Bjórdagurinn to locals, may not be an official public holiday, but it’s certainly one that Icelanders are happy to observe. Every year on March 1, the Nordic nation celebrates the end of the 74-year prohibition on beer that ran from 1915 until March 1, 1989. At the time of the ban, all alcoholic drinks were included. However, a few short years later, Spain threatened to stop importing Iceland fish if the island wasn’t going to buy Spain’s wine — a potential massive blow to the Icelandic economy — so the ban on wine was lifted. Spirits followed suit shortly after in the 1930s, but beer — which was seen as a much stronger drink — remained banned. Eventually, in 1988, Parliament voted to end the prohibition, and to this day, beer lovers toast to the time they got their drinks back with a pint at their local pubs.
United States: National Weatherperson’s Day
It’s one of the first things we check in the morning and a trusty topic of conversation in any situation. The weather is a major part of daily life, and every year on February 5, meteorologists and weather broadcasters are recognized for their contributions on National Weatherperson’s Day. The day commemorates the birthday of John Jeffries, one of America's first weather observers, born in 1744. He started taking daily weather notes on the ground in his hometown in 1774, and in 1784, he became the first person to make observations from a weather balloon, a device that, though simple, is still a useful atmospheric measurement tool for weather people today.
Austria: Krampus Night
When December rolls around, children around the world start to feel the excitement of the Christmas season. But in the Austrian Alps, they must first get through Krampus Night, a sinister twist on the wholesome Santa Claus tradition. The name Krampus is derived from the German krampen, meaning "claw," and the legend of the devilish half-man, half-goat character dates back to ancient celebrations of the winter solstice. In the pagan myths, as St. Nicolas made his way to childrens’ homes to reward those who had been good, Krampus would come along to punish those who had not been on their best behavior. Today, Austrian children don’t fear Krampus as much as they celebrate him — thanks to the popular (and rambunctious) Krampus Parade (or Krampuslauf) that happens every year around December 5, Krampus has become a revered Christmas tradition.
International Talk Like A Pirate Day
It started as an inside joke between friends, but before long, International Talk Like a Pirate Day had become a worldwide phenomenon and an annual holiday that would eventually go on to reach the White House. In 1995, two friends from Oregon came up with the idea while playing a game of racquetball. They arbitrarily assigned the date September 19 to the holiday and decided that humor columnist Dave Barry would be its official spokesperson. Seven years later, in 2002, Barry wrote about the holiday in his popular Miami Herald column, and International Talk Like a Pirate Day blew up overnight. In 2012, President Obama even celebrated the holiday, posting a photo of himself posing with a pirate in the White House and posing the question, “Arrr you in?” The holiday has a rabid fanbase and active online community to this day.
January 6 is known as the Feast of the Epiphany to Christians around the world, but to Italians, it’s also the Celebration of Befana. The legend of Befana has been around since the 13th century; it tells the tale of a witch-like old woman who rides a broom and delivers gifts to children’s stockings or shoes on Epiphany Eve. Befana is said to be a commendable housekeeper and will always sweep a house’s floors before she enjoys the glass of wine and snacks left out for her. This signifies a clean start to the New Year. The Celebration of Befana is an important holiday for families to enjoy traditional Italian holiday sweets, go to church, and spend time together as a family.
Bolivia: Day of the Sea
It’s not uncommon for nations to commemorate defining military events, whether they’re celebrating victories or mourning losses. On March 23, Bolivia does the latter during the Day of the Sea (Día Del Mar). The holiday, observed by most around the country, remembers the section of the Pacific coastline that their country lost to Chile during the 1879-1883 War of the Pacific. What gives the holiday its unusual edge are the commemorative festivities — not only is there a parade featuring the Bolivian navy (La Armada Boliviana, which still exists despite no coastline ownership), but event attendees also listen to recordings of seagulls and ships as they vow to regain their ocean access someday.