Unusual American Festivals You Didn’t Know Existed

By Stephen Schreck,

We Americans love to celebrate and sometimes will use any excuse to do so. What better way than at a lively festival where people can let go, get a little wild and enjoy a certain zest for life. No doubt, this leads to quite a few unique and wacky festivals where people dress up in lively vibrant colors, participate in strange competitions and join wild, off-the-wall races. In this post, I want to dive head first into exploring some of the craziest festivals America has to offer.

 

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Idiotarod
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No, the name isn’t a typo. A punny version of the harsh Iditarod, a massive sled dog race through the wilderness of Alaska, the Idiotarod is a quirky and fun festival with virtually no rules. The basic premise is to tie yourself to a shopping cart. Yes, I said tie. Then you join in the fast-paced race down the curvy streets of a major American city. All you need to participate is to gather a team of “Idiots,” dress up in funny costumes, and find a shopping cart. You can decorate the cart as you see fit. A few years ago, one team dressed as Vikings and decorated their cart to look like a ship with a propane fire burning throughout the entire race. Another year, a team dressed as Roman centurions with helmets and swords and rode in two carts made to look like chariots. The competition can get a little extreme, and sabotaging your opponents is not only overlooked but even expected and deemed as good sportsmanship. Throwing marbles on the ground, tripping other racers, and lying about the racing route are all acceptable. If you feel the call of your inner “Idiot” and want to participate in a bizarre and slightly dangerous festival, this is the one for you. The Idiotarod takes place all throughout America, including in cities like Boston, Chicago, LA, Washington and many more.

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Punkin Chunkin
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Punkin Chunkin Festival in Delaware Photo by Mike Maney

If the Idiotarod is not quite up your alley, why not try to become Lord of the Gourd at the World Championship Punkin Chunkin festival? Now, this isn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill pumpkin-throwing contest. This is punkin chunkin at its best. Essentially, participants build an extreme pumpkin-launching catapult and compete to see who can hurl their pumpkin through the air the furthest. While I have no plans to build a catapult anytime soon, the festival looks like a ton of fun. Just imagine how entertaining it would be to watch massive pumpkins soar ridiculous distances while hanging out with all the colorful regular festival goers this event draws in. To date, the largest “Chunk” is 4,694 feet. While there are a variety of these festivals through the U.S.A., the main one is held in the wild state of Delaware in late OctoberBook your hotel early though, places fill up fast!

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San Fermin in New Orleans
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San Fermin Run of the Bulls in New Orleans
Photo by Infrogmation

Last year, I ran with the bulls in Spain, and frankly it was an amazing experience. I never knew I could have so much adrenaline pumping through my veins. However, I recently found out that I didn’t have to travel to Spain for this unique opportunity. If you are a little nervous about running with the bulls and want to start smaller, I have a festival just for you. Plus, it brings “running with the bulls” right to your doorstep.
The San Fermin festival is not like any bull run you have ever seen before. Imagine yourself lining up with hundreds of other participants, all clothed in ceremonial traditional white and red outfits. Suddenly, people start flying past you at full speed. You cock your head to the side trying to look past the stampeding crowd for a glimpse of what is about to come. All of a sudden you see women on roller skates, sporting helmets with horns and carrying foam bats racing wildly down the jam-packed street towards you. Run. I mean . . . RUN! This adrenaline-pumping, gut-splitting festival happens every July in New Orleans.

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Contraband Days
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Pirate Festival Louisiana
Photo by Yoshin Yamada 

If you have always dreamt of taking to the high seas and living the life of a pirate, then strap on your peg leg and get your eye patch ready for a full 12-day, fun-filled festival known as Contraband Days. Over 200,000 landlubbers flock to this Lake Charles, Louisiana festival every year, each ready for some privateering fun. The festival starts with the arrival of a pirate ship that proceeds to take control of the city by bombardment. Upon capturing the mayor, the Jolly Roger flag is hoisted in victory and the mayor is made to walk the plank. This action-packed festival is full of thrills and excitement. Colorful fireworks, a spectacular regatta, and a full, old-fashioned carnival are just a few of the many events that take place. So, what are you waiting for? Let loose your sail and get to Louisiana this April!
America is full of entertaining festivals that you probably never knew about. These are just a few that I think are entertaining. If you are looking for a different kind of festival or a break from the normal vacation, visiting one of these festivals might be just the trip for you. What other unusual American festivals have you been to?