The Strangest Tradition in Every U.S. State
Ostrich parades, turtle races, and meat raffles? We're all a bunch of weirdos.
Alabama: MoonPie Drop
What better way to ring in the new year than with a snack? Mobile has a tradition of watching a giant moon pie, instead of the traditional ball, drop called the—what else?—MoonPie Over Mobile. As the 12-foot, 600 pound, and, alas, fake MoonPie descends during the midnight countdown, the crowd receives actual MoonPies to eat at the same time. There are a lot of other New Year’s traditions involving food and good luck, too.
Alaska: Blanket Toss
This tradition pays tribute to the Iñupiaq people of Alaska. The blanket, made of walrus hides, is used by dozens of people at once to toss one person up in the air. Now it’s simply a fun activity with the tossee tossing gifts into the crowd, but it was originally used to get a better view of the hunting terrain.
Arizona: Ostrich Festival
Every year, Chandler, Arizona hosts an ostrich-themed carnival. This huge fair has been part of town tradition for more than 30 years and originates from the area’s history of ostrich farming. There are live ostrich races and ostrich parades at this festival each year.
Arkansas: Razorback worship
The Razorback hog may just be the mascot for the University of Arkansas, but it’s not only students who heed the hog call. Go virtually anywhere in Arkansas and yell “Wooo pig!” and someone will call back with “Sooie! Razorbacks!” It is one of the most recognizable chants and traditions in all of sports.
California: Doo Dah Parade
Pasadena may be better known across the country for its Rose Bowl Parade, but locals know the annual Doo Dah Parade, held in November, is the more fun of the two. It was created as a mocking counterpart to the famed parade for one purpose and one purpose only: to be as ridiculous as possible. The only goal is complete and utter nonsense. Other states have cool state fairs and festivals too, but this is one of a kind.
Colorado: Headless Chicken Festival
The phrase “running around like a chicken with its head cut off” is taken very literally in Fruita, Colorado. Every year for the last 21, this town has celebrated one chicken’s will to live. It is based on a weird and gruesome story dating back to 1945 about how a chicken named Mike got the ax, but simply refused to die, and was then subsequently fed and taken care of by his executioner. Today, Mike the Headless Chicken is celebrated with his own festival, the first weekend in June.
Connecticut: Sea Music Festival
There really is a festival for everything—a prime example of this is Connecticut’s Sea Music Festival. The 40-year old music festival, held at the Mystic Seaport Museum each June, celebrates sounds and composition that are particular to seafaring culture. Here, one can hear old sea chanties and new seaside songs performed.
Delaware: Hummers Parade
Political satire takes a physical form every New Year’s Day in Middletown during Hummers Parade. This entire parade is dedicated to making fun of that year’s political headlines and prominent politicians and started in 1971 as a spoof of Philly’s Mummers Parade.
Florida: Strawberry Festival
Other than The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the annual Florida Strawberry Festival is likely the biggest ode to the fruit ever seen. The yearly celebration of the strawberry harvest in late February-early March in Eastern Hillsborough County spans nearly two weeks and more than 10,000 acres of farmland, attracting approximately 500,000 visitors. The festival has all the usual carnival attractions families love, which we can totally get behind, but the strange part is all the eating contests including strawberry spaghetti and strawberry-garlic mashed potatoes. We’ll pass, thank you!
Georgia: Peanuts and Coke
There are a lot of strange food combinations out there that actually taste amazing when you dare to try them, i.e. pineapple and pizza, chocolate and cheese, pickles and peanut butter. The combination of peanuts and Coke is pretty standard, especially as far as baseball parks are concerned. But it’s pouring the peanuts inside the Coke that makes for a weird Georgia tradition. According to the National Peanut Board, it’s about as southern a tradition as biscuits and gravy.
Hawaii: Open lei
Visit Hawaii and your chances are good that you’ll spot a lei worn around a person’s neck as if its a necklace, but did you know that it’s actually taboo to give a closed lei to a woman who is expecting? In its place, it’s traditional to give a pregnant woman an open lei for good luck, as a closed lei can be seen as symbolic of the umbilical cord getting wrapped around the baby’s neck.
Idaho: Potato Drop
Idaho has pretty much become synonymous with potatoes. It makes sense then (sort of) that instead of a yearly ball drop on New Year’s Eve, people in Boise, Idaho watch as a giant potato descends at the countdown to midnight.
Illinois: Turtle racing
Chicago is known for a lot of things: mobsters, vicious winds, and deep dish pizza, to name a few. One thing that all residents know that people from other states might not, however, is that turtle racing is very much a part of life and entertainment in this city. According to the Chicago Tribune, even Al Capone got into turtle racing, and once released 5,000 turtles onto the city streets when things didn’t go his way.
Indiana: Covered Bridge Festival
The Covered Bridge Festival is not just the pride of Parke County, but the whole state of Indiana. The state’s largest festival held in October is essentially one giant, linear street fair. Instead of quartering off a few blocks, the county has several bus trails that take people from town to town driving through covered bridges, stopping along the way to allow for shopping and snacking at food stalls.
Iowa: Hobo Days
Nowadays, the word “hobo” evokes the image of a homeless and extremely destitute, downtrodden person. Several decades ago, however, the term simply referred to men who would ride the nation’s rails looking for work. In honor of the hobo legacy, Iowa hosts the Hobo Days every August, complete with contests, parades, food, and arts. Some lucky man and woman also get crowned as hobo king and queen each year.
Kansas: St. Lucia Festival
The town of Lindsborg is known as a Swedish capital in the United States. Because of the townspeople’s Swedish heritage, they celebrate the St. Lucia Festival every year for Christmas. The eldest daughter of every family dresses up in a white robe and wears a crown of ivy and lights as a sort of symbol for light and hope in the darkness of winter. Here are more small towns in America that will leave you feeling like you were transported across the Atlantic.
The state and the whiskey are practically synonymous. Most of the world’s bourbon is made in Kentucky, and that is where its long, brilliant history began. There are festivals every year dedicated to bourbon (such as the Bourbon & Beyond Music Festival) but, what strikes us is strange are traditions much, much older than those. Bourbon was used as medicine to treat everything from fevers to snakebites to teething (it’s still a popular home remedy) and it took the place of paper money back in the 1800s.
Louisiana: King cake
People from New Orleans adore their king cake tradition. Every year starting on Three Kings’ Day (aka January 6) through the Mardi Gras season, dozens of local bakeries pump out hundreds of king cakes topped with yellow, green, and purple sugar. They are the signature dessert at any self-respecting resident’s party this time of year, and inside each cake, a tiny plastic baby is hidden (a choking hazard). The lucky person who gets the slice of cake with the baby tucked inside has to host the next party.
Maine: Ski Into Spring
There are Parrot Head Festivals all over the country, which set out to celebrate the music and mythology surrounding Jimmy Buffett. Maine used to host one of these Parrot Head Festivals, but it has been transformed into a more general Spring Festival in Newry held in April. What makes Maine’s Spring Festival strange is that it combines spring and skiing, two ideas that generally oppose each other. Rave at a “beach” party and then party some more slopeside!
Maryland: Lemon sticks
The lemon stick treat is a Maryland staple dating back more than 100 years. Every year at Baltimore’s spring festival, people give out lemon halves with peppermint sticks shoved in the center as an edible straw. Apparently, it is a sweet and tangy treat that can’t be beat. Every state has one food you have to try.
Massachusetts: Allston Christmas
Because college students are notoriously in debt, they look to get the best possible deals and discounts they can. And what better deal is there than free? When a college student in Massachusetts moves out of the dorms and into an apartment, they need some cheap furniture. The biggest college suburb of Boston is a town named Allston, where September 1st is known as Allston Christmas: a day when people leave the suspiciously dirty belongings they don’t want anymore out on the curb for other broke college students to claim.
Michigan: Palm directions
In geography class, many students learn the shapes of states and territories to help remember their location. Michigan is known for having the shape of a hand or a glove. Because of this, when people in Michigan give directions or communicate to others where they live in the state, they simply put out their right hand and point to a spot on it.
Minnesota: Meat raffle
Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like. In Minnesota, communities frequently host raffles where the prize is a nice, fresh cut of premium meat. Head down to your local Minnesota market, restaurant, or bar and throw in a few bucks for a chance to win some dinner.
This strange Mississippi State University tradition began with an even stranger legend. It is said that during one football game in the school’s past, a Jersey cow somehow happened to stroll across the field. The team went on to win that day, and so ringing a cowbell became a lucky tradition.
Missouri: Kiss the 50
A lot of states in the South and the Midwest center their lives around their colleges’ sports and traditions. One such tradition at the University of Missouri is for the freshmen to lay down and kiss the 50-yard line on their school’s football field. Why? Because football is king.
Montana: Dirty laundry
Montana reportedly has quite a few strange superstitions and traditions, including one that forbids you to wash laundry on the first day of the New Year, lest you wish to wash away a friend as well. That’s one way to avoid washing and folding your clothes after a late night celebrating.
Nebraska: Czech Days
Wilber, Nebraska is known as the “Czech Capital of the U.S.A” and the home of the Czech Days Festival. The annual cultural celebration held in August involves parades, contests, and ethnic dancing and food.
Nevada: Reno Basque Festival
The phrase “going to Reno” is an idiom for the act of getting divorced. However, there is more to do in Reno than just getting your affairs in order. The area has a surprisingly large Basque population and is steeped in that region’s culture and heritage. Every July, they hold a cultural festival to celebrate where they came from. So, what’s odd here? Well, you’ll just have to visit for yourself to take part in their weight carrying and war cry contests and wood chopping demonstrations to find out why this is no run-of-the-mill street fair.
New Hampshire: Exeter UFO Festival
Perhaps no other nation in the world is so consumed by UFOs and extraterrestrial life as America. The Exeter UFO Festival in New Hampshire is just one example of this alien obsession. The festival is held here because of famous UFO sightings, as well as the historic Betty and Barney Hill case. Believe it or not, this isn’t the only strange fact about New Hampshire.
New Jersey: Sheep and Fiber Festival
Normal New Jersey traditions involve taking trips to the Jersey Shore and hitting the boardwalk every summer. In Lambertville, however, in early September there is the Sheep and Fiber Festival, where people go to put their sheep and their fleece on display and enjoy the company of their fellow tradesmen.
New Mexico: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta
Other states in the United States host hot air balloon events, but none quite like Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque. Hot air balloons of all shapes and sizes (think Darth Vader, Russian nesting dolls, zebras, and more) decorate the horizon for nine straight days. Yes, nine.
New York: Santacon
Santacon has become a worldwide phenomenon, and one of the best/worst places to experience it is none other than the Big Apple. On this day, streets, subway cars, and bars are filled to capacity with drunken Santas and reindeer. (Warning: the reindeer often ends up being the most raucous.) Those who participate in Santacon thoroughly enjoy it, but many bars and restaurants will actually post “No Santas Allowed” signs in their windows.
North Carolina: Duke bonfire
Duke and the University of North Carolina have been bitter sports rivals for decades. In fact, students take the rivalry so seriously that part of Duke’s school tradition (although discouraged by school and local authorities) is to make a fierce bonfire out of school benches after games.
North Dakota: Redneck Relay
Some people take (and give) the term “redneck” as a slur or an insult, but others completely embrace the title. Being a redneck—a stereotypical country bumpkin who loves big trucks, plaid, and hunting with a red neck to prove it—is even celebrated at the Redneck Relay. Corn tossing, moonshine spitting, and watermelon racing are all staples of this strange state fair event.
Ohio: Circleville Pumpkin Show
Circleville, Ohio celebrates the harvest season with great vigor every October during the Pumpkin Show. People enter their pumpkins to be judged (who will have the biggest pumpkin this year?), host parades, and even compete to become Miss Pumpkin.
Oklahoma: Cow chip throwing
Some people compete at the piano. Others on the football field. In Oklahoma, people are happy to participate in competitive cow chip throwing. FYI, “cow chips” is a nice way to say dried lumps of cow poop. This is definitely one of the weirdest things a state can be known for.
Oregon: Naked Bike Ride
More and more cities are embracing the World Naked Bike Ride, but it has a special place in the hearts of the people of Portland. While it may seem completely random and silly, the event is actually a form of protest and is meant to encourage people to use green methods of transportation and to participate in body positivity.
Pennsylvania: 100 Mile Yard Sale
Most towns in America have some kind of yard sale season, but these are typically on a very small scale. Whereas most towns host yard sales for a few blocks, Pennsylvania hosts the 100 Mile Yard Sale. Ten cities across the state participate in this enormous event.
Rhode Island: V-J Day
Victory over Japan Day (or Victory Day) was celebrated across the United States when Japan officially surrendered in World War II on August 14, 1945. Today, Rhode Island is the only state where it’s an official state holiday, celebrated on the second Monday in August. Hey—more time to enjoy a Del’s Lemonade.
South Carolina: Chocolate Groom Cake
The Southern tradition of a bride presenting her groom with his own special cake on or right before the wedding day still persists in South Carolina. The classic choice of flavor for the cake is chocolate, and the cake can be made to resemble the shape of something important to the groom, like a hobby or a building from his college. The bride apparently only gets the main wedding cake. Somehow, that doesn’t seem very fair.
South Dakota: Potato Days
The people of Clark, South Dakota sure love their spuds. The yearly Potato Days Festival in early August is a means of honoring their favorite crop and having fun for the whole family. Here, mashed potatoes aren’t just for eating—they’re for wrestling.
Tennessee: Mule Day
The people of Columbia, Tennessee have so much appreciation for their mules that they have celebrated these creatures every year since 1840. The self-proclaimed “Mule Capital of the World” hosts a festival each April filled with food and events each year, in addition to crowning some special lady the Mule Day Queen. Congratulations to the lucky winner…
Texas: Homecoming mums
Forget the corsage, because in Texas (where everything is bigger) high school is all about the mums. The original practice of giving a girl a chrysanthemum for homecoming snowballed into the making of a giant pendant made of ribbons and flowers. The most impressive mums can be several feet long.
Vermont: Green Up Day
Leave it to Vermont to make a holiday out of being kind to the environment. Every year on the first Saturday of May, more than 20,000 volunteers come together for Green Up Day to do a statewide sweep of all litter. Imagine if every state did this!
Virginia: Chincoteague Pony Swim
According to National Geographic, riders come from all over the United States to participate in the Chincoteague Pony Swim. The Pony Swim is an event that precedes the auction of the wild horses that participate in it. Basically, it’s a form of population control for the wild horse herds in the area. Here are more places in North America where you can still spot wild horses roaming free.
Washington: World’s Quickest Theater Festival
Experience the arts in a flash at Washington’s World’s Quickest Theater Festival in Seattle. Also known as the 14/48 Festival, the participants perform 14 plays, each with a duration of ten minutes, over a period of just two days in January. The plays are usually centered around one major theme, and each acting troupe interprets that theme in the most evocative way they can.
West Virginia: Fasnacht
Gesundheit! No, but really, Fasnacht is an important yearly festival for West Virginians of Swiss heritage held the Saturday before Ash Wednesday. The point of the festival is to scare away winter, which is accomplished by the donning of scary masks and the burning of an effigy called “Old Man Winter.”
Wisconsin: Snowshoe baseball
Snowshoe baseball is quite possibly the most ridiculous athletic activity in existence. Who needs regular baseball when you can cover the diamond with so much sawdust that you need snowshoes to run the bases? Making it even weirder? Since the games are during the summer, saw chips stand in for snow. Lake Tomahawk is proud to be the home of this strange display. Here are more hidden gems in every state.
Tourists flock to Jackson Hole all the time for some luxurious rest and relaxation, but that’s not the only thing going on. Elkfest is a tradition that is now in its 52nd year. It’s held in May after the local Boy Scouts collect elk antlers that are naturally shed in spring. The antlers are auctioned off by the famed Antler Arch to auction off in an effort to raise money for the National Elk Refuge and the Boy Scouts. If you ever wanted to DIY your own antler chandelier or side table, now is your chance.