We're serving up six of the States' strangest and most unique festivals this spring. They may not be to everyone's taste -- but that's what makes American celebrations so special.
Rattlesnake Roundup: Sweetwater, Texas (March 9 to 12, 2006)
Ophidiophobes need not attend this bizarre Texan ritual. This event is a weekend jam-packed with all thing serpentine, from the Rattlesnake Review Parade through downtown Sweetwater on opening day to the Miss Snakecharmer Pageant that evening. The following morning, get up bright and early fro the 7am weigh-in for the 48th annual World's Largest Rattlesnake Round-Up competition. Watch snake handling demonstrations, the Rattlesnake Round-Up Cook-Off (chili and brisket, not rattlesnakes), go on a guided snake hunt and, dare I say it, you may consider trying some deep-fried Western Diamondback rattlesnake meat or entering the snake eating contest. There's also a beard contest, a rattlesnake dance; flea markets; a carnival; and a gun, knife and coin show. Proceeds from ticket sales go to a local charity. Now in its 17th year, don't miss what is billed as the world's largest rattlesnake roundup (yes, there are others!) For more information, telephone 800/658-6757 or visit www.rattlesnakeroundup.com.
Chandler Ostrich Festival: Chandler, Arizona (March 10-12, 2006)
The 18th Annual Ostrich Festival celebrates Chandler's unique role as the Ostrich raising and ranching capital of America. Pet them, buy them, ride them, talk to them and yesÂ¿eat them -- all this and more at this weekend avian festivity. First there is the Ostrich Festival parade, complete with floats, clowns and high school marching bands. There is also a carnival of rides and 150 exhibitors selling an array of arts, crafts and ostrich related goods. Don't miss the ostrich riding races, which take place three times daily and other ostrich-themed activities, including the sale of ostrich meat, leather and feather products. Food stalls, wine and margarita gardens and an interactive children's area make this a fun family weekend. Tickets cost $7 for general admission and $5 for children from six to 12 years of age. All day carnival passes cost $17 with advance purchase or $23 at the gate. For more information visit www.ostrichfestival.com.
Calle Ocho: Miami, Florida (March 12, 2006)
Come on, shake your body baby, do the conga . . . at one of the world's largest street parties, just south of downtown Miami. Calle Ocho (Eighth Avenue) is the heart of Little Havana and home to this Cuban fiesta, held annually. The festivities are spread over 23 blocks of the area, filling the street with the best of Latin music, dancing and entertainers. Dozens of temporary stages are set up at various intersections offering a selection of live bands playing everything from salsa and meringue to contemporary and Caribbean music. Get ready for some seriously large crowd numbers -- over one million people attend this festival and it was here that the world record for the longest conga line was set a few years ago -- almost 120,000 people joined in. Indulge in Cuban delicacies at dozens of food stalls and Latin restaurants. There is also a mini children's festival located on the four blocks between Fourth and Eighth avenues. It features kiddy treats like stilt walkers, face painters, fun food, magicians and rides. To make it even more child-friendly, there is no alcohol or tobacco permitted in this area. Whilst in the Little Havana area, soak up some local Cuban atmosphere by visiting Maximo Gomez Park, where locals play chess and dominoes and there is even a Walk of Stars (Paseo de las Estrellas) just like the one in Hollywood, except for Latin-American stars only. For more information visit www.calle8.com.
White House Easter Egg Roll: Washington, D.C. (April 17, 2006)
You might be in D.C. to see the Cherry Blossoms, but if you have children, they won't want to miss the annual Easter celebration on the South Lawn of the White House. This egg-hunting tradition dates back to the 19th century and President Rutherford B Hayes.
This is the White House's largest public celebration, and the Easter Bunny is usually a White House staffer (or even a first lady).There are White House tours on the day and a festive atmosphere no matter what your politics. Things are a little slow at the White house this year so the 2006 event website isn't up and running yet, but to get a better idea of what the day is about, visit www.whitehouse.gov/easter/2005/index.html.
Isle of Eight Flags Shrimp Festival: Amelia Island, Florida (May 5 to 7, 2006)
Amelia Island is credited with being the birthplace of the America's modern commercial shrimping industry in 1906. The first Shrimp Festival was held in 1963 to celebrate the traditional blessing of the shrimp fleet and has been celebrated with fervor and appetite ever since. This year marks a centenary of shrimping so it is sure to be an extra festive event with pirates, buccaneers, fireworks, the Miss Shrimp pageant, tours of shrimp boats, the "Best Decorated Shrimp Boat" parade and contest, a pirate costume competition, an antiques show, a fine arts and crafts show, music, entertainment and boatloads of shrimp. For more information visit www.shrimpfestival.com.
Annual Rhubarb Festival: Intercourse, Pennsylvania (May 19 & 20, 2006)
Rhubarb is a highly under-appreciated fruit and one of my personal favorites so I can hardly pass up an opportunity to write about the 23rd Annual Rhubarb Festival in Lancaster County. The festival, held at the Kitchen Kettle Village, a haven for some of Lancaster County's best produce, features food, music, games and family fun with a "Best Rhubarb Dessert in Lancaster County" baking contest, the Rhubarb Derby Car Race where contestants design their cars from rhubarb stalks to win cash prizes, the Rhubarb King and Queen competition, the Rhubarb Stroll parade, Rhubarb cooking demonstrations, Rhubarb kids crafts and games, Rhubarb sampling, entertainment, craft demonstrations and meet local Rhubarb experts. For more information visit www.kitchenkettle.com/events.php.
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