America is a young country. But as it turns out, 241 years is more than enough time to concoct a whole slew of bizarre traditions from the quirky coasts of California to the weirdo wilds of West Virginia.
If you’ve got an appetite for the esoteric, or just an appetite for roadkill, you won’t have to drain your bank account to experience the oddest ongoing celebrations in small towns all across America.
Where: Chandler, Ariz.
Admission: $10 adults, $7 seniors and children over 5, $50 adult or $30 child (5-12) VIP tickets with included meal and drinks
From March 9 to 11, 2018, the city of Chandler will celebrate its 30th annual Ostrich Festival, which is exactly what it sounds like. Attractions include pig races, carnival rides and aerial shows. And, there’s the namesake ostrich race, which also allows camels, zebras and emus. Rides cost $1 each, or you can purchase ticket bundles for rides at a discount for $23 to $70.
Where: Marlinton, W.Va.
Admission: Free, but $5 to taste the vittles
Have you ever wanted to experience a mouth-watering food festival? Well, the Roadkill Cook-Off might be up your alley — or not.
Part of the free annual Autumn Harvest Festival — which includes live music, handmade craft exhibits and the Hudson Cream West Virginia Biscuit Bake Off — the Roadkill Cook-Off challenges creative chefs to conjure up dishes that contain wild game commonly found dead on the roadside as their key ingredient. Cooks get paid $100 for participating in the cook-off and can win as much as $1,200 in prize money. If you’ve got five bucks and a sense of culinary adventure, you might find yourself lucky enough to dine on teriyaki marinated bear, squirrel gravy, doe patties or elk over grits. The event is scheduled for Sept. 28 and 29, 2018.
Where: Raleigh, N.C.
Presented by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Bugfest doesn’t seem all that weird at first glance. In fact, educational live bug exhibits, beekeeping workshops and presentations by entomologists attract more than 35,000 arthropod enthusiasts every year. If you can get past the idea of a whole festival dedicated to creepy crawlies, Bugfest can do you one better. At Café Insecta, local chefs prepare edible bug-based dishes free for the attendees to sample. We hear they’re high in protein.
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The World of Faeries Festival
Where: South Elgin, Ill.
Admission: $11 adults, $8 seniors, free for children 12 and under
If bugs aren’t your style, maybe you’d prefer the cuter winged creatures of South Elgin, Ill.
For the 15th annual celebration, to be held Aug. 4-5, 2018, this fantastical tradition will host family games and a packed roster of Old World-style entertainers such as flutists, ventriloquists, songstresses, storytellers, harpists and falconers. The Bubble Wonder Show, held in a wooded clearing, might just be your best bet for catching sight of a real-life fairy.
Where: Punxsutawney, Pa.
If you don’t think Groundhog Day is a little strange, you were probably born and raised in America. This tradition dates back to the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club of 1886, which was inspired by the weather-forecasting hedgehogs of Candlemas rituals in ancient Rome. And if all that’s not odd enough for you, maybe the fact that the arbitrarily chosen groundhog — Punxsutawney Phil — has his own official Instagram account is. People across the U.S. tune in to Phil’s shadowy revelations every Feb. 2, but you can attend the official live viewing of Phil’s prognostication alongside more than 20,000 other revelers in Gobbler’s Knob. Just be sure to get there early — the gates open at 3 a.m.
Where: Roswell, N.M.
The UFO capital of the world takes extraterrestrials very seriously — so much so that the whole town takes four days off in early July each year to commemorate the alleged alien “flying disk” crash of 1947 at the Roswell Army Air Field. Guest speakers such as UFOlogists and authors lend their voices to E.T.-oriented panels, but this traditional celebration isn’t all about alien academia. The fest features an alien costume contest, laser shows, a UFO light parade and a 5K/10K “Alien Chase” run, as well as a car show and huge water slides just for the fun of it. The 2018 event is set to start July 6.
Frozen Dead Guy Days
Where: Nederland, Colo.
Admission: $15 wristband includes access to all music tents and one drink token
True story: Since 1993, the corpse of Norwegian immigrant Bredo Morstoel has been preserved on ice in a Tuff Shed in Nederland, Colo. Also true: The residents of the town are still pretty stoked about it. That’s why they’ll be celebrating the 17th Frozen Dead Guy Days festival March 9 to 11, 2018, gathering round the shed to take in 30 live bands, coffin racing, a parade of hearses, ice turkey bowling, brain freeze contests, a frozen salmon toss and more. Surely Grandpa Bredo would be proud.
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Where: Port Aransas, Texas
Admission: $10 for adults, free for children under 12
So, Texas has a lot of sand. And at some point, the little town of Port Aransas figured if you got it, flaunt it. This beachy tradition started in 1997 when hundreds of Texans gathered to watch nine sand-sculpting teams work their shoreline magic. More than 20 years later, thousands flock to Port Aransas each April to watch more than 20 sculptors create live art across 75 plots. Sand isn’t all the fest has to offer, though — music tents, a beer garden and, for some reason, a golf cart giveaway keep things interesting between contests.
International Eelpout Festival
Where: Walker, Minn.
Admission: $15 for participation in the fishing festivities, $40 to enter a two-person team in the Eelpout Beer Pong tourney
Port Aransas has sand and Walker, Minn., has eelpout. You probably know what at least one of those things is. The eelpout is Walker’s pride and joy, a gloriously ugly bottom-dwelling fish that inhabits the romantically named Leech Lake.
For the past 37 years, about 12,000 eelpout fans — that’s more than 10 times the population of Walker — have descended upon the lake for three days in February to celebrate that lovably weird-looking fish with ice-fishing contests, frozen eelpout curling, zero-degree lake plunges, ice castles and bull riding… in snowsuits.
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Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw
Where: Prairie du Sac, Wis.
Admission: Registration ranges from $1 to $25 for participants
In 43 years of active competition, the sitting champion of the Wisconsin State Cow Chip Throw holds a record of 248 feet — which is apparently a really long distance to throw a disc of dried cow poop. It doesn’t cost too much to try your hand at the competition in front of 40,000 people over Labor Day weekend, whether you’re in the adult, kids or corporate bracket. Just remember the rules: No gloves allowed, but licking your hand to get a better grip is A-OK.
Where: Camden, N.J.
Admission: Tickets range from $21 to $35
There are some interesting holiday traditions around the world, but this one in Camden stands out.
The weather outside may be frightful, but the environment at Camden’s annual holiday tradition is just really, really wet. Throughout the month of December, the city’s Adventure Aquarium displays the world’s tallest underwater Christmas tree and trots out its very own Scuba Santa to do a little submerged storytelling. And you thought Christmas pickles and yule log apps were weird.
On the dry side of things, kids can pose for photos with Santa, plus there’s an elfish story time and a Snow Shower Dance Party with a weirdly romantic backdrop as snow gently falls inside the aquarium.
Nenana Ice Classic
Where: Nenana, Alaska
Admission: $2.50 per mail-in guess
For more than 100 years, the residents of Nenana have been betting on the exact time the ice will break on the Tanana River. If you want in on the fun but would rather not shell out for airfare, worry not. You can always mail in your guesses and watch in suspense as a webcam image updates every 30 seconds at NenanaAKIceClassic.com. The contest is open from Feb. 1 through April 5.
The winners in 2017 shared a prize of about $267,000, which was just a portion of the entry fees. Your $2.50 per guess goes to a good cause, too, as the Nenana Ice Classic is a nonprofit charitable gaming organization that donates its proceeds to causes such as the Special Olympics of Alaska, public schools, senior centers, libraries and scholarship programs.
Rubber Ducky Festival
Where: Valencia, Calif.
Admission: $5 to adopt a single duck, $25 for a Six Quack, $50 for a Quacker’s Dozen, $100 for a 24-pack Flock of Ducks
Speaking of good causes, Samuel Dixon Family Health Centers has been weirding it up for charity in slightly warmer climes for 15 years running. Its annual event features balloon animals, live performances, food trucks, a photo booth, bouncy castles and wall climbing. But the real centerpiece is the duck race.Adopt a rubber duck (or a flock of 24) for a chance to win a grand prize of $2,500 as they careen through the water in an unpredictable race. Regardless of your ducky’s finishing position, it feels good to know that all that duck money goes toward patient care services at SDFHC, which focuses on serving underinsured and uninsured patients.
Duck Tape Festival
Where: Avon, Ohio
Over in Avon, they’re crazy for a whole different kind of duck — Duck Tape, that is. 2018 will mark the 15th anniversary of this sticky small-town tradition, which runs in mid-June every year. You’d be mistaken if you assume it’s a regular Midwestern summer festival, what with the rides, games, parades, costume contest, live music, crafts and food. Get a little closer, though, and you’ll notice that all the crafts are made out of duct tape. Oh, and that costume contest? All the costumes are made out of duct tape, too. You get the picture.
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