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We all know and love Thanksgiving, our happy way to celebrate the subjugation and destruction of a race of indigenous peoples via eating turkey and mashed potatoes. But underneath all the stories, Thanksgiving is just America's own brand of weird brand of harvest holiday.
And, just in case you thought we were the only peoples world wide who enjoyed such things, behold the other, much more awesome harvest fests that our international friends enjoy, like...
Our foolish Western Thanksgiving has nothing on Sankranthi and never will until the day we stop eating the turkeys and start dressing them up like stereotypically flamboyant homosexuals. That's what Indians do with cows during this festival that celebrates the beginning of their harvest season.
In order to celebrate the new growing season in an "Out with the old, In with the new" attitude, womenfolk cook up a pantload of sugary goodies while every piece of old shit you own is tossed on a fire to teach it a lesson for getting old and useless. So if you value sugar cookies more than all of your material possessions and grandparents, you might have a new favorite holiday in Sankranthi. You also have some pretty profound mental issues that should probably be dealt with.
Cows and bulls are decorated to look about as tacky as livestock can ever hope to look and are paraded from house to house where they are forced to "demonstrate their skills." Since the only real "skills" we've noticed in cows involve "eating," "farting" and "being delicious," we can't imagine this ceremony is at all interesting.
To further demonstrate their boundless awesomeness, once the sun goes down bonfires are lit and the cows are forced to jump over them. This may seem strange, but you have to remember that cows are sacred, and not to be eaten. If we couldn't eat cows, we'd probably make them do some pretty weird shit too.
Gotta do something with all these cows.
Like any good festival to celebrate the harvesting of the summer crop, Holi traces its roots back to a demon king. This particular demon, angry at his son for worshipping Vishnu, tried to set him on fire and instead burned his sister. Presumably, everyone in attendance stared at the floor in an awkward silence until some enterprising young soul said "Welp, might as well party." Thus, Holi was born.
Nowadays, various peoples in India, Nepal and elsewhere celebrate Holi, the Festival of Colors, by hanging pots of buttermilk above the street so that children can form human pyramids to try to break them. Lest you think it's as simple as that, it should be noted that girls will also be throwing colored water at them at the same time. It's sort of like a wet t-shirt contest, but with children, and the water is full of dangerous chemicals, and everybody loses.
In retrospect, this is nothing like a wet t-shirt contest.
That's part of what makes Holi the Festival of Colors, the prevalence of colored waters, pastes and powders which regular folks just seem to toss at each other all willy nilly. And while it only seems like a minor annoyance to have someone throw a pot of red or blue water on you, when you factor in that some of the ingredients used in the modern colors (like asbestos) can cause renal failure, blindness and various cancers, it hardly seems worth it to bust open a pot of buttermilk and be named the King of Holi.
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This cleverly named festival was and is observed by various American Indian tribes to celebrate the ripening of a new crop of corn (or, as they called it, "maize"). The festival marks a renewal of things and past offenses are forgiven, with the exception of things like rape, murder and attending Wayans brothers movies, all of which are banishable offenses in the eyes of the Green Corn Festival (or, "Green Maize Festival").
Only one of these three deserves a party.
These American Indians celebrate autumn a little bit differently than we do. While we feast like epic fatties and let our children pick pumpkins and run around the corn maze (or, Maize Maze), the village's men-folk traditionally start a fast on the first night of the festival and then maybe some do ceremonial blood-letting on the next day, so they'll be nice and miserable. For the party. This is carried out by raking thorn covered sticks down their backs or, if they were feeling particularly festive, snake fangs embedded in a wooden holder.
It probably looked nothing like this.
A major part of the festival involves drinking something called the Black Drink after the fast, a tea made from ilex vomitoria. If you don't know what "ilex" and "oria" mean, that's fine- you still probably have a pretty good idea for what this drink does. The idea was to drink the tea then spray the remaining contents of your stomach across the ground in an effort to purify yourself of sins. Maybe we're just corny (maizey), but we'd prefer sitting around a table with our family to wandering around puking on a bunch of strangers and beating the shit out of ourselves any day of the week.
Celebrated in Malaysia, Gawai Dayak is a festival in which food and wine are offered to the gods of prosperity, and tribal poets from the Iban and Dayak recite special poems. Then they smear the blood of a sacrificed rooster on everything so the gods will be pleased, much as we smear gravy on everything so fat uncle Bob with the breathing problems will be pleased.
I'm not smiling, it's just the 40lbs of shit on my head pulling my face taught.
There are many rituals to be undertaken in order for the event to go off without a hitch, including brewing rice wine about a month in advance, cooking food, cleaning out long houses and visiting graveyards to make offerings to the dead. All of this sounds incredibly intense, solemn and traditional, which is ironic considering the holiday was invented on a radio show in 1964.
The cover of this book doesn't explain anything.
That might be why some of the other somber events of the day include a beauty pageant and cock fights. Basically, it's the Malaysian equivalent of a long weekend when the family gets together to watch Nascar and then offer up corn dogs smeared with blood to the baby Jesus.
If you've ever thought not enough holidays are based on property disputes and bloodfeuds that lead to violence and death, then you haven't been celebrating Bonderam enough. And for that you should be ashamed.
At some point in time in Goa, there was an intense amount of hatred between two sections of one village, enough that, to stop them from killing each other, the Portuguese government set up flags to clearly mark the borders of each section of town.
In what probably came as a shock to the Portuguese and absolutely no one else, flags don't have magic powers, and the result was that people from the opposing sections would constantly throw rocks at the others' flags, knocking them down. Shenanigans!
Nowadays, this ancient hatred is playfully acted out on an annual basis when colourful flags are playfully knocked down with berries and and people wail on each other with bamboo-stemmed weapons all in the spirit of mockingly re-enacting past murders and spite. If that seems like a weird way to celebrate a holiday, don't worry, there's also a bunch of brightly colored floats with kids dressed as chickens, or something.
Hopefully this answers all of your questions.
Check out a special Thanksgiving comic for The Weirdest Thing to be Thankful For on Thanksgiving. Or check in with Swaim to find out why Extinction Is Only For Ugly Animals and while you're there, check out Cracked's newest blogger, Robert Brockway, in 5 Astounding Advances in the Science of Getting Drunk.