A month-by-month guide to the contests and parades that bring out America's best and quirkiest. Some people will dream up any excuse for a party!
O. Henry Pun-Off in Austin, Tex.
Thirty-two punny participants hash it out in timed contests like "punniest of the show" and "punslingers" until one champ is left standing. A book sale and proceeds from a silent auction benefit the city's O. Henry Museum. May 17, 2008; punpunpun.com, free.
Horned Toad Derby in Coalinga, Calif.
Tuck into barbecued beef while watching competitions of all sorts: toads rushing to cross the finish line first (or rather, just wandering in circles); firemen competing to push a bucket of cement using fire hoses; and locals playing at softball. May 23-26, 2008; coalingachamber.com, 559/935-2948, free.
Testicle Festival in Olean, Mo.
Olean may be tiny, but its residents have the gumption, sense of humor, and adventurous eating habits to pull off this annual fest. The main attraction is mountain oysters, a polite term for fried turkey testicles. Kudos to reader Judy McFarland of Columbia, Mo., who wrote in about the festival last year. We've also learned Olean doesn't have the lock on testicles—Montana has been celebrating them for more than 25 years. June 7, 2008; eldonchamber.com, $5.
Watermelon Thump in Luling, Tex.
This four-day celebration takes its name from the time-tested way to tell if a melon is ripe: thump it with your fingers and see if it has a ring to it. There aren't any thumping contests, but you can test your talents at seed spitting and speedy melon eating. A lucky local grower will win a prize for largest Black Diamond melon. June 26-29, 2008; watermelonthump.com, admission and main-stage concerts are free Thursday and Sunday, admission is $2 on Fridays, $3 on Saturdays, and main-stage concerts are $20.
Mermaid Parade in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Parade goers clad in flashy sea-inspired costumes turn out for this 26-year-old Coney Island tradition. (The future of some traditions is uncertain as development plans are in the works for the iconic amusement park.) While you still can, catch revelers traipsing down Surf Avenue alongside antique cars and floats. June 21, 2008; coneyisland.com, free.
International Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship in Eau Claire, Mich.
Tree-Mendus Fruit, a family-run cherry-growing business, launched this championship in 1974. The current distance for spitters to beat is a shocking 93 feet 6 ½ inches, a Guinness world record set by Brian "Young Gun" Krause in 2003. July 5, 2008; tree-mendus.com, free.
Summer Redneck Games in East Dublin, Ga.
A good-natured and outrageous embrace of all things redneck, the games include bobbing for pig feet, hurling hubcaps, and belly flopping in a giant mud pit. July 5, 2008;summerredneckgames.com, $5.
Telluride Nothing Festival in Telluride, Colo.
A tongue-in-cheek event created in 1991 by a local who was fed up with larger festivals in the area. Sometimes bands perform, but otherwise, as promised, not much happens—"gravity will continue to be in effect" and there's a "sense of humor search," according to the website.July 18-20, 2008; telluridenothingfestival.com, free.
Gilroy Garlic Festival in Gilroy, Calif.
Instead of festival staples like popcorn and cotton candy, feast on snacks prepared with more than two tons of garlic (breath mints not included!). A local gal crowned Miss Gilroy Garlic reigns over three days filled with live music acts, arts and crafts vendors, and a fiery garlic cook-off. July 25-27, 2008; gilroygarlicfestival.com, $12.
Lumberjack World Championships in Hayward, Wis.
More than 100 lumberjacks and lumberjills square off at chopping, sawing, rolling, and climbing logs. The championships date back to 1960 and take place in a former holding pond for logs that was owned by the Weyerhaeuser's North Wisconsin Lumber Company. July 25-27, 2008; lumberjackworldchampionships.com, tickets start at $14 or $40 for a three-day pass.
The National Hobo Convention in Britt, Iowa
Real and aspiring hobos, those train-riding and often-sung-about migrants, gather each August for a flea market, a parade, poetry readings, and a memorial. True to form, most attendees sleep at the hobo jungle located by the railroad tracks on the northeast side of Britt. Aug. 7-10, 2008; hobo.com, free.
Tug Fest in LeClaire, Iowa
It's Iowa versus Illinois, with male and female teams from each state heaving on ropes in three-minute tug contests. Keeping things lively are local bands, a hometown heroes parade, and a huge show of fireworks shot off from a barge diplomatically situated on the Mississippi River between state lines. Aug. 7-9, 2008; tugfest.com, $3 or $5 for a two-day pass.
The Cowboy Trade Day in Catoosa, Okla.
Self-described "has-been old-timer" Hurley Hughes was inspired to start a trade day back in 1995. Not wanting to create just another flea market, he's kept the growing event focused on cowboy, Western, and Native American wares. Sept. 20, 2008; cowboytrader.com, $5.
How Berkeley Can You Be in Berkeley, Calif.
Poking good-natured fun at peace, love, and all that Berkeley jazz, the festival and parade were started by John Solomon, who owns a business on University Avenue and wanted to improve the neighborhood's image and sense of community. Sept. 28, 2008; howberkeleycanyoube.com, free.
Yellville Turkey Trot in Yellville, Ark.
The National Wild Turkey Calling contest, which attracts callers of all ages, has been a feather in this small town's cap for more than 60 years. Local restaurants cook special turkey dinners during the festival, which includes a 5K run, crafts vendors, and beauty pageants (the swimsuit one is dubbed Miss Drumsticks). Oct. 10-11, 2008; yellville.com, admission free, $5 for the turkey calling contest and $5 for the pageants.
Emma Crawford Coffin Races in Manitou Springs, Colo.
Costumed impersonators of Emma—a 19th-century lady who was buried atop Red Mountain—ride on coffins pulled by teams of four mourners in this kooky, pre-Halloween race along Manitou Avenue. Emma supposedly haunts the mountain even though her coffin washed away years after her burial. Oct. 25, 2008; manitousprings.org, free.
World Championship Punkin Chunkin in Sussex County, Dela.
Helmet-wearing participants load homemade cannons in the hopes of launching pumpkins nearly 4,000 feet across a field. Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2008; punkinchunkin.com, $7.
Giant Omelette Celebration in Abbeville, La.
Ever since 1984, when three members of the local chamber of commerce attended the Easter Omelette Festival in Bessieres, France, Abbeville has been one of seven cities worldwide to host an annual omelette festival. Representatives from each city are on hand to help local chefs prepare the celebration's pièce de résistance—a 5,000-egg Cajun omelette. Nov. 1-2, 2008; giantomelette.org, free, historic homes tour, $10.
Wilderness Woman Contest in Talkeetna, Alaska
Ladies, single and at least 21 years old, test their mettle by hauling firewood, fetching water, shooting ptarmigan, opening beer cans, and performing other tasks vital to surviving married life on the frontier—according to the Talkeetna Bachelor Society, anyway, which hosts the event and highly recommends a sense of humor. Dec. 6, 2008; talkeetnachamber.org, free.
Bed Races in Oatman, Ariz.
Five teammates (two to push, two to pull, one to sit) sporting pajamas or outlandish costumes maneuver beds through an obstacle course in teeny Oatman. Once home to gold miners, it's now a tourist trap with daily shoot-outs and a herd of burros that wanders the streets looking to be fed. Burro braying contests, a chamber-pot parade—literally, people banging pots—and a toilet-seat toss (target: a traffic cone) make this event one of the wackiest. Date TBD; oatmangoldroad.com, free.
Icebox Days XXVIIII in International Falls, Minn.
Each year, city council members from International Falls challenge those from its sister city, Fort Frances, across the Canadian border, to a snowshoe race as part of a four-day festival embracing the area's chilly winters. Among activities like a snowshoe hike and "Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard" 10K and 5K runs is one bizarre standout: outdoor bowling with frozen turkeys for balls. Jan. 15-18, 2009; internationalfallsmn.us, free.
International Water Tasting in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
This historic spa town boasts three times as many massage therapists as lawyers and claims it was visited by a young George Washington for the healing power of its natural springs. At the competition, judges compare more than 100 entries from around the globe in a blind tasting. Onlookers can sip samples, vote in a best-package-design contest, and attend seminars. Feb. 19-22, 2009; berkeleysprings.com, free.
Ostrich Festival in Chandler, Ariz.
Live bands, kid-friendly rides, and more than 150 crafts and food vendors—some of whom sell ostrich burgers—are the backdrop for the weekend's main event at Tumbleweed Park: a series of ostrich races with participants hanging on tightly. Date TBD; ostrichfestival.com, tickets from $7.
World Grits Festival in St. George, S.C.
The folks in St. George love their grits (they consume the most per capita of any place in the country) and have been throwing an annual festival since 1986. Expect eating contests, corn tossing and shelling, and the crowning of a one-and-only Miss Grits. Date TBD; worldgritsfestival.com, free.
World Cow Chip Throwing Championships in Beaver, Okla.
The nine-day Cimarron Territory Celebration—packed with the likes of a kiddie parade and horseshoe throwing—culminates on the third Saturday of each April, when men and women fling dried cow chips with all their might across a roped-off course. Apr. 11-19, 2009; beavercountychamberofcommerce.com, free.