14 Traditional Holidays or Celebrations That People Now Find Offensive

In a world as diverse as ours, celebrations take various forms, from the deeply spiritual to the ridiculously strange. In this post, we delve into 14 unique celebrations from around the globe and explore what makes them unappealing to our modern, more progressive sensibilities.

Running of the Bulls

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The bull run is a traditional part of the San Fermin festival in Pamplona, Spain. Runners try to stay ahead of a herd of harassed bulls let loose in the town’s streets. Besides being extremely dangerous for the willing human participants, animal rights activists argue that the festival is cruel to the bulls, suffering high levels of stress, fear, and potential injury as they’re forced to run through the crowded streets. This abusive tradition certainly belongs in the past.

Columbus Day 

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This anniversary, a recognized holiday in the US marks Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas. Positively commemorating the explorer’s expeditions has recently come under scrutiny because the arrival of Europeans directly led to the mass genocide and exploitation of Indigenous people originally living in the Americas. Some might argue that the past is the past, but this celebration is a painful reminder of past suffering for many Native Americans.

Yulin Dog Meat Festival 

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It’s not hard to imagine why this Chinese event has been condemned, considering its focus on eating dog meat and the associated brutal treatment of farming intelligent animals for food. Sparking global outrage from animal rights groups, critics argue that consuming dog meat is no longer appropriate in today’s society. The increased role of dogs as companion animals has led many people to view dogs as friends and family members, certainly not a species they are comfortable eating!

La Tomatina

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Also known as the “World’s Biggest Food Fight,” this annual event held in Buñol, Spain, attracts eager participants from around the globe. Thousands of individuals gather to participate in an hour-long tomato-throwing contest. Given the issues of world hunger, the sheer amount of food waste is often frowned upon, with around 150,000 tomatoes (40 metric tons) being thrown each year. The aftermath also requires a significant cleaning effort for sanitary reasons, attracting further criticism.

Groundhog Day 

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This tradition sees a groundhog used to predict whether spring has arrived every 2nd February in Pennsylvania, US. While it may seem like a charmingly harmless piece of Americana, animal welfare activists have raised concerns, arguing that the large, noisy crowds and bright camera flashes can be highly stressful for the groundhog, a creature that’s naturally timid and not accustomed to humans or noise. Modern society tends to prioritize wildlife over such whimsical amusements.

Hindu Festivals (Use of Swastikas)

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The swastika is a sacred and auspicious symbol in Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism, but it has a starkly different meaning for Westerners due to its appropriation by the Nazi party. Although the association is purely coincidental, the sight of swastikas can be powerfully distressing for those affected by anti-Semitic hate crimes or the atrocities of the Second World War. Such misinterpretation is a clear example of cultural symbolism that’s been lost in translation.

The Danza de los Zopilotes

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The Dance of the Vultures (translation) is a macabre dance performed in certain regions of Mexico, primarily Guerrero, during the Easter celebrations of Holy Week. It is a ceremonial dance involving children dressed as vultures, symbolizing death and resurrection. Some could find it macabre and distressing while using vulture feathers in costumes for the dance has led to concerns over wildlife conservation and exploitation of this large bird of prey.

Chinese Ghost Festival

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Like many worldwide celebrations of the dead, the Chinese Ghost Festival celebrates the belief that the line between the living and the dead is temporarily blurred. Family members offer food and burn offerings, such as fake money, to appease wandering spirits. Some may argue that such practices are irresponsible and environmentally damaging. The amount of wasted food, the burning of so much joss paper, and the release of wildlife-harming floating lanterns have all been criticized in modern times.

Moose Dropping Festival 

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Held in Alaska, the name really says it all! The festival involves dropping moose poop from a helicopter onto manmade targets for the purpose of gambling. Some see the event as a quirky, local tradition, but not everyone agrees. Some people accuse the participants of disrespecting wildlife and the natural environment and argue that aggressively harvested moose dung is an unnecessary and unsanitary choice of ammunition! 

Cheese Rolling

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This annual event held in the UK sees participants chase a wheel of cheese down a steep hill. Though it may sound harmless, the practice has resulted in numerous sprained ankles, broken bones, and concussions over the years, prompting legitimate safety concerns. Some see it as a fun, if risky, tradition, whereas others advocate for its cessation, finding the celebration of such a harmful event irresponsible and offensive.

Kanamara Matsuri

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Also called the “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” this event is held annually in Kawasaki, Japan. Primarily a celebration of fertility and marital success, it also promotes safe sex and raises awareness about HIV and other STDs. Despite these noble intentions, the festival’s overt displays of phallic imagery can be controversial.

The Battle of the Oranges

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This traditional event is held during an Italian Carnival and sees the local townsfolk throwing oranges at each other to reenact a famous medieval revolt. Although it sounds like harmless fun, some view the amount of food waste to be unacceptable. Tons of perfectly edible fresh oranges, a valuable food source, are destroyed purely for entertainment. There’s also an argument against promoting violence, as participants are often left with painful welts and bruises.

The Haka 

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Harking from New Zealand, this powerful Maori war dance is performed at various events in the country, including rugby matches. While its cultural significance is respected, the Haka can be seen as offensive and disrespectful if performed inaccurately or used out of context. Its significance and ancestral meaning are so great that improper use or mimicry is seen as a deep insult to the Māori people, making it unsuitable for anyone without a strong cultural education and appropriate ancestry.

Monkey Buffet Festival

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Imagine a grand banquet where the esteemed guests are, well, monkeys! The event is held annually in Lopburi, Thailand, and involves presenting the local monkey population with a lavish feast of fruits, vegetables, and candies. The food is even intricately displayed in order to pay homage to these ‘lucky’ creatures. Unfortunately, feeding wild animals can disrupt their natural feeding habits and teach them to associate humans with food. Increased interaction could also pose health risks (like disease transmission) for both species.

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