Down South, it isn’t hard to find a celebration. Be it a favorite dish, a President, or even holding onto a way of life passed down through generations, festivals help to introduce some to new ideas and traditions while reminding others that there’s always a reason to celebrate.
But some festivals are just, well, different. They encompass the spirit of a community that outsiders just can’t understand. Whether it’s the lost art of hollerin’ or giant mosquitoes, these Southern festivals might seem odd, but they remind us what embracing community and having fun is all about.
- Eeyore’s Birthday Party in Austin, Texas Festival goers surround an “Eeyore Statue of Liberty.” Eeyore’s Birthday Party in Austin was influenced by the character from A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories. (Photo courtesy of Jack Newton)Most of us remember the childhood stories of Winnie the Pooh and his friends by A. A. Milne, but one particular character serves as a reason to celebrate each year in Austin. For more than fifty years, people have gathered at the city’s Pease Park (it was at Eastwoods Park prior to 1974) to have a birthday bash for everyone’s favorite gloomy donkey and kick-off spring.The festivities started in 1963 when some students from the English department at the University of Texas at Austin threw together a spring picnic complete with a live donkey, honey sandwiches, beer, and a trashcan filled with ice-cold lemonade. For years the birthday party was a university tradition, but it spread from there to become an event Austinites look forward to annually. Although they’ve moved away from trashcans of lemonade, the festivities still include a maypole as in the earlier years to celebrate spring. And while the party isn’t on Eeyore’s actual birthday, gifts are distributed by the Friends of the Forest Foundation in the form of donations to local non-profits.
- West Virginia Roadkill Cook-off in Marlington, West Virginia The rules state no food is to be actually taken from the road, but if it is something that you would typically find as roadkill, you can cook it hereFrom the heart and beauty of West Virginia’s scenic mountains comes one of the oddest festivals in the country—the Roadkill Cook-off, where biscuits are topped with squirrel gravy and if it’s something you could find dead on the side of the road, you can cook it up here.The festival started back in 1991, after a group of citizens read Jeff Ederbaugh’s Gourmet Style Roadkill Cooking. Now, in parts of West Virginia this should come as no surprise. West Virginians are a resourceful people, and many still strongly believe “waste not, want not.” But the fare you find here hasn’t necessarily been hit by the front end of a Chevy, it’s just what could be, like rabbit, squirrel, possum, deer, bear, and the list goes on. A five-dollar wristband will get you a sample of what the best West Virginia cooks are serving up. And you never know what it might be. A few years back a groundhog on a bed of ramps took first prize. Now that’s good eatin’.
- National Hollerin’ Contest in Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina Hollerin’ was a form of communication necessary to rural life in North Carolina, as well throughout the world. Pictured here is a hollerin’ contestant in 1975.A generation of cell phones and instant messaging might not understand the lost art of hollerin’ (that’s right, no g). And down in Spivey’s Corner, hollerin’ is just that, an art form worth keeping alive.Hollerin’ isn’t just yelling random words at your distant neighbor. A holler is a specific cry (or shout) meant to convey a particular message. A holler can denote a range of emotions including distress, which made hollerin’ an important form of communication before phones in the rural areas of North Carolina. This lost art was brought back to life in Spivey’s Corner in 1969 as a fundraiser for the local fire department. The first Hollerin’ Contest featured square dancing and watermelon rolling, and the little town of forty-eight residents was filled to the brim with those anxious to hear the revival of hollerin’ in North Carolina. Spivey’s Corner has drawn national attention for the event, and today the day-long festival is filled with food, games, pageants, whistling, and of course, hollerin’.
- Great Texas Mosquito Festival in Clute, TexasWillie-Man-Chew, the Great Texas Mosquito Festival mascot, proves (at twenty-six feet tall) that everything is bigger in Texas, including mosquitoesIf you’ve ever had an urge to call a mosquito (unlikely as that is), Clute, Texas, is the place to do it. Because every Texan knows, everything is bigger in Texas, especially the mosquitoes. And the twenty-six-foot festival mascot, Willie-Man-Chew, can attest to that.The Great Texas Mosquito Festival was established in 1981 to promote tourism in Clute, which is about an hour outside of Houston. The festival has been featured by media outlets across the country, including a segment featuring the fajita cook-off on Food Network. As you can guess, the theme of the three-day festival is all things mosquito. While there is plenty of games, food, and activities for all ages, the highlight of the weekend is the mosquito calling. Young and old take the stage in an epic buzz-off to see who can call the biggest and quickest mosquitoes in Texas.
- Gasparilla Pirate Fest in Tampa, Florida The Gasparilla Pirate Fest kicks off with the “invasion,” in which pirates invade Tampa after sailing in on their ship, the “Jose Gaspar” (photo courtesy of Christopher Hollis)Ahoy, mateys! If 750 pirates coming ashore isn’t yer idea of a good time, then we don’t know what is.In January, scores of sea-weary scalawags sail into Tampa Bay, invading the city and kicking off the world-renowned Gasparilla Pirate Fest. More than 300,000 people take part in the buccaneer-themed festivities that include a four-mile-long parade of pirates. The festival goes back to 1904 and is derived from the legends of José Gaspar, a Spanish Naval officer turned pirate. Legends say Gaspar set up secret operations at the southeastern coast of Spanish Florida in the late 1700’s. Some believe his treasure still lies hidden on Gasparilla Island today. Arrrgh!