11 Controversial Cultural Traditions and Celebrations That Spark Offense

By Krystal Brown

Explore a diverse array of cultural celebrations and traditions from around the world, each with their own unique characteristics and controversies. From historical commemorations to unusual customs, these events spark discussions about cultural sensitivity, animal welfare, environmental impact, and societal values.

1. Columbus Day Holiday

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Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas is commemorated on this date with a US federal holiday. Because the introduction of Europeans immediately caused the mass murder and exploitation of Native Americans who were originally from the Americas, honoring the explorers’ journeys has lately been under fire. Although some could argue that history is in history, for many Native Americans, this celebration serves as an ominous remembrance of their previous suffering.

2. Bull Running

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The San Fermin celebration in Pamplona, Spain, is known for its annual bull run. A herd of bulls who have been agitated and turned loose in the town’s streets are pursued by runners. Animal rights organizations claim that the annual event is cruel to the bulls, who endure high levels of stress, anxiety, and probable damage as they are compelled to run through the packed streets, in addition to being exceedingly dangerous for the festival’s voluntary human participants. Certainly, this harmful custom belongs in the distant past.

3. La Tomatina

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This yearly event, held in Buol, Spain, is also referred to as the “World’s Greatest Food Fight,” and it draws enthusiastic participants from all over the world. This one-hour tomato-throwing competition attracts thousands of spectators. Roughly 150,000 tomatoes are wasted each year, which is a significant amount given the problems with world hunger. The ensuing mess requires a substantial cleaning effort for hygienic reasons, generating more criticism.

4. Yulin Dog Meat Festival

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It’s easy to see why this Chinese festival has been vilified, given its emphasis on consuming dog meat and its accompanying horrific treatment of intelligent animals. Dog meat consumption has outraged animal rights organizations throughout the world, and critics claim that it is no longer acceptable in modern society. Due to their growing popularity as companion animals, many people now consider dogs as friends and members of their families rather than simply sources of food.

5. Groundhog Day 

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Every second February in Pennsylvania, US, a groundhog is used to forecast if spring has finally come. While it may appear to be an innocently harmless characteristic of Americana, animal welfare groups have expressed concerns, claiming that the enormous, loud crowds and bright flashy cameras can be highly unpleasant for the groundhog, a critter that is normally timid and not used to humans or noise. Nowadays, nature often takes precedence over such frivolous amusements.

6. Chinese Ghost Festival

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The Chinese Ghost Festival honors the belief that the border between people who are alive and the dead is occasionally blurred, like several other international festivals commemorating dead people. To pacify wandering ghosts, family members burn gifts such as fake money and food. Some would claim that these actions are reckless and harmful to the environment. Modern times have seen criticism of the quantity of food squandered, the amount of joss paper burned, and the discharge of floating lanterns that hurt animals.

7. The Danza de los Zopilotes

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During Holy Week, a macabre dance known as “The Dance of the Vultures” is performed in some parts of Mexico, notably in Guerrero. Children costumed as vultures perform a ritual dance that represents both death and rebirth. While incorporating vulture feathers in dance costumes has raised questions about animal protection and the overuse of this big bird of prey, some might find it ghoulish and unsettling.

8. Hindu Festivals (Use of Swastikas)

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In Hinduism and Buddhism, the swastika is a revered and auspicious sign; nevertheless, the Nazi party appropriated it, giving it a completely new significance for Westerners. Although the linking is unintentional, seeing swastikas can be extremely upsetting for people who have experienced anti-Semitic crimes against humanity or the horrors of World War II. Such misunderstanding is an obvious case of cultural symbolism lost in translation.

9. Moose Dropping Celebration

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The name of the festival—Moose Dropping Festival—pretty much says it all. For the sake of gambling, moose feces is dropped from an aircraft onto constructed targets during the festival. Even though some consider the event to be a unique local custom, not everyone does. Some claim that the participants disrespect animals and the environment and claim that using moose feces that has been violently collected as ammunition is wasteful and unhygienic.

10. Cheese Rolling

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Participants in this yearly UK tradition pursue a spinning wheel of cheese down a slope. Although it may appear harmless, the practice has throughout the years led to multiple fractured bones, sprained ankles, and concussions, raising real safety issues. Some consider it fun, though dangerous, while others argue that celebrating such a dangerous occurrence is irresponsible and insulting.

11. Kanamara Matsuri

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This event, which is also known as the “Festival of the Steel Phallus,” takes place every year in Kawasaki, Japan. In addition to encouraging safe sex and spreading knowledge about HIV and other STDs, it is essentially a celebration of conception and marital success. Despite these admirable goals, the festival’s overt phallic iconography displays can be problematic.

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