Unusual European traditions

If you’re planning a trip to Europe, it’s good to know what you might find …    

You’ll surely be inundated by sartorial style, elegant cuisine, cobblestone streets and classic architecture. But what about stumbling into a tomato throwing festival, a cheese chasing race or being hit by a rogue sausage thrown through a window?

Read: The most beautiful European destinations

Knowing the European traditions and customs you might find yourself in the middle of is important. But these bizarre events might be what attracts you to the region in the first place!

Here are some of the weirdest European traditions and customs we’ve found.

The bathtub regatta (Régate de Baignoires à Dinant), Dinant, Belgium

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Why watch the Oxford-Cambridge boat race when you could enjoy the Bathtub Regatta instead? Started in 1982, the 1km race takes place in the river Meuse with only one rule: the floating device must be made out of a bathtub.

Every year the competition adopts a different theme and contestants are encouraged to decorate their boats to represent their region.

Taking place on 15 August each year, it’s free for both contestants and spectators.

The human chess game (Partita a Scacchi Di Marostica), Marostica, Italy
In 1454, two local gentlemen in the northern Italian town of Marostica challenged each other to a duel over the woman they both loved. Rather than the customary sword battle, they played a game of chess instead.

Now, the event is celebrated every other September by an enormous human chess game in the town’s square. Hundreds of people in costumes participate in the parade and match      that typically lasts around two hours. The event is complete with parades, period dances, music, and fireworks.

The wife carrying race (Eukonkanto), Finland

Endurance races have become quite popular in recent years, though this one really stands out.

Contestants carry their wives across a gruelling 253-meter obstacle course involving leaping over timber and wading through waist-high water. The prize? The wife’s weight in beer.

Despite the name, contestants don’t have to be married.

Chivalric tournament (Sinjska alka), Dalmatia, Croatia
The small town of Sinj organises its annual chivalric tournament dating back more than 300 years. Sinjska alka started in 1715 as a celebration of locals’ bravery and their victory over the superior army of Ottoman Turks and has continued to this day.

On the first Sunday of August, knights on horses use their lances to hit an iron target of two rings. The contestants, dressed in colourful uniforms from the era of the famous victory over Turks, attempt to aim their lances at full gallop.

Sinjska alka attracts spectators from all over the world. In 2010, it was added to UNESCO’s List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Read: Weird and wonderful festivals around Australia

Cooper’s Hill cheese rolling, Gloucester, England

Don’t ask me why but for more than 200 years, people have been racing down a particularly steep hill chasing a cheese.

The cheese is produced specially by a local cheesemaker and is let loose in front of the competitors before they run or tumble down the hill trying to catch it. People even spend the year training for the difficult challenge.

It occurs on the last public holiday in May every year.

The Giant Omelette (Omelette géante), Bessieres, France
In the city of Bessieres in the South of France, locals celebrate the arrival of spring by cooking a giant omelette. More than 4500 eggs are cracked to make lunch for up to 1000 people.

This tradition stems from Napoleon’s time, when the leader and his army stopped in a small town in the south of France and ate omelettes. According to the legend, Napoleon liked the omelette so much that he ordered all people to gather their eggs and make a giant omelette for him and his army the next day.

The Maypole (Maibaum), Austria

The hoisting of a maypole on 1 May is an important part of spring festivities in Austria.

Part of the tradition is that one village tries to steal the maypole from the neighbours. If they succeed, the safe return of the maypole is up for negotiation with ransoms involving copious quantities of beer and food.

It’s all very good-natured and the theft is governed by a pretty strict code of conduct: sawing or damaging the maypole in any way is prohibited.

One of the most spectacular thefts occurred in 2016, with a group of unscrupulous Austrian pensioners carrying out the theft of a 10-metre maypole using only their zimmer frames.

The Tomato Fight (La Tomatina), Bunol, Spain

Every year on the last Wednesday of August, people gather in the Valencian city of Bunol to engage in an enormous tomato fight.

More than 160 tonnes of tomatoes get thrown by 22,000 participants, it gets very messy.

It is said to have begun in 1945 when woodland creatures were eating watermelon crops. People threw tomatoes at them to scare them away, one tomato ended up hitting another person and an annual food fight was born.

Read: World’s weird signature dishes

The Sausage Tossing (Eis-zwei-Geissebei), Switzerland
Every year on Shrove Tuesday at 3.15pm precisely, hundreds of children and adults gather in front of Rapperswil’s city hall.

The mayor will shout “Are all my boys here?” from a window and the excited crowd of children will reply “Yes, one, two, goat leg!”

Then, the mayor and council members open up the windows and toss out sausages, loaves of bread and pastries to the crowd.

The tradition is said to go back to the siege of the city in 1350 when compassionate wealthy citizens handed food to hungry children through their windows.

Do you know any more weird and wonderful European traditions? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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Written by Ellie Baxter

Writer and editor with interests in travel, health, wellbeing and food. Has knowledge of marketing psychology, social media management and is a keen observer and commentator on issues facing older Australians.

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