Each U.S. state has its own history, a history that helped create and mold the state’s culture. Whether it is because of past events or influential people, each state also has traditions particular to that state.
Because they are so singular, these traditions may seem quirky, even peculiar, to outsiders. Regardless, states hold fast to these customs, even if they might seem odd — especially if there is a profit to be made.
24/7 Wall St. decided to take a look at these unique traditions by tracking down the weirdest in each state.
Some of these traditions revolve around holidays such as New Year’s Eve, Christmas, and the Fourth of July. Many towns in these states have put their own spin on these traditional celebrations.
To ring in the new year, folks in Idaho drop a gigantic potato. Traditional Christmas ornaments aren’t enough in Mississippi, where people embellish their holiday displays with decorations bearing a oceanic theme. In California, the Fourth of July is celebrated with a marshmallow fight in Ogden Beach.
Not surprisingly, some of these offbeat traditions involve food. West Virginia hosts a cook-off for roadkill. In Minnesota, folks hold a meat raffle.
Some of these traditions include races in which animals — not dogs or horses — compete against each other. Arizona plays host to ostrich racing. In Maryland, visitors can root for their favorite crustacean in the National Hard Crab Derby.
Though some places may balk at characterizing a particular custom as weird, many cities — perhaps taking a cue from our British cousins who embrace quirky customs and traditions — enjoy their offbeat description. For example, the cities of Portland, Oregon; Asheville, North Carolina; and Austin, Texas, have used the slogan of keeping their city weird on public buildings, signs, and bumper stickers as a way to boost tourism and commerce. Leave it to Americans to monetize weirdness.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed media sources, state and city websites, and cultural resources to determine a list of the weirdest tradition in each state. We looked at each tradition to assess its uniqueness in regard to the state as well as how unusual the tradition or custom is. Obviously, the peculiarity of a tradition is in the eye of the beholder. What is weird to one person is special to another.
> Tradition: Putting wreath on Hank Williams’ grave
> When: New Year’s Day
On New Year’s Day, people are invited to place a wreath on the grave of country-singing icon Hank Williams, who is buried in in Montgomery. Williams was 29 years old when he passed away on Jan. 1, 1953.
> Tradition: Nenana Ice Classic
> When: Late winter, early spring
The Nenana Ice Classic, which has been held since 1917, is a contest in which people bet when the ice on the Tanana River will break up each spring. The river is adjacent to the town of Nenana. A tripod is placed on the ice and is connected to a clock. When the ice starts to break, the tripod moves, causing the clock to stop, and that decides the winner.
> Tradition: Ostrich racing
> When: Early March
Chandler has held its annual Ostrich Festival for almost 30 years. Ostriches were first brought to the United States in the 1880s. During the festival, ostriches race with riders on them. They can run up to 40 mph.
> Tradition: Hog drop on New Year’s
> When: New Year’s
In New York, revelers bring in the new year by watching the ball drop in Times Square. In Fayetteville, Arkansas, celebrants watch a gold-painted artificial hog descend to ring in the new year. The dropping of the hog is followed by a fireworks display.
> Tradition: Marshmallow fight
> When: July 4
People at Ogden Beach in California mark the founding of the nation by holding a marshmallow fight. The tradition began in the 1980s, when two families pelted each other with the gooey treats. The event grew in popularity and city residents were fearful that the exuberance was getting out of control. In recent years, the event has marsh-mellowed a bit.
> Tradition: Frozen Dead Guy Days
> When: Three days in March
Frozen Dead Guy Days are coffin races held in Nederland, Colorado. The competition consists of six “pallbearers,” who carry another team member in the coffin over an obstacle course of snow and mud. The event is named after a man who passed away in 1989 and is kept in a cryogenic state in a shed in Nederland. The event, which began in 2001, also includes a salmon toss and a hearse parade.
> Tradition: Turkeys painted neon colors
> When: Weeks before Thanksgiving
Each year, the turkeys at one turkey farm in Guilford, Connecticut, are painted in neon colors ahead of Thanksgiving. The dye is not toxic and vegetable-based. The tradition began about 45 years ago by the turkey farm owner’s grandmother to entertain children.
> Tradition: Return Day
> When: Thursday after Election Day
Return Day is a Delaware tradition and a state holiday in which officials from the Democratic and Republican parties meet in Georgetown to “bury the hatchet” to end differences arising from the recently concluded election campaign. Officials meet on stage and together stuff a hatchet in box of sand.
> Tradition: Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival
> When: July 4
This music festival is an offbeat concert held to bring attention to reef preservation. The music is broadcast to divers and snorkelers underwater from speakers located in boats above the reef and is ocean-themed. Hundreds of boats assemble at the site, which is about 6 miles south of Big Pine Key.
> Tradition: Dropping a possum at New Year’s
> When: New Year’s
Every New Year’s in Tallapoosa, Georgia residents drop a stuffed possum named Spencer, who is encased in a wire frame ball that is covered with lights, to bring in the new year. The possum is roadkill retrieved by a man who had it preserved by a taxidermist. The possum was named after a local businessman. The tradition of dropping Spencer began in the early 2000s.
> Tradition: Eating Spam
> When: Any time
Spam, the canned cooked meat, has been ridiculed since its inception. But don’t make fun of it in Hawaii, where it is eaten all over the islands. Spam, short for spiced ham, was introduced to the islands during World War II when it was served to American soldiers. The meat did not need to be refrigerated and has a long shelf life. Spam can be found on McDonald’s and Burger King menus in Hawaii.
> Tradition: Potato drop
> When: New Year’s
At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, Idahoans lower a glowing potato replica from a crane in front of the capitol building in Boise. The tradition is less than 10 years old, but it has grown in popularity, with around 35,000 people attending festivities in 2017.
> Tradition: No Pants Subway Ride
> When: Once a year
The merry pranksters at art troupe Improv Everywhere organize an annual no-pants subway ride on Chicago’s subway cars. Participants have to be hearty folks, because this year’s event is held in January. The ride took place on the city’s Red Line this year.
> Tradition: Tractor pull
> When: Any time
Indiana, a haven for high school basketball, loves other sports. Those include tractor pulling, in which tractors pull a metal sled stuffed with weights over a designated course. The tractor that pulls the weight the farthest wins.
> Tradition: Viewing a cow made of butter
> When: Aug. 9-19
The Iowa State Fair is a very big deal. And for a lot of people, one of the highlights is seeing a cow made entirely of butter. There have been five people who have sculpted the cow out of butter since the first one was sculpted in 1911. Sarah Pratt became the fifth sculptor in 2006. Butter cows weigh about 600 pounds, just a few hundred pounds shy of the real ones, which tilt the scale at 1,000 pounds.
> Tradition: Taking photo with biggest ball of twine
> When: Any time
The world’s biggest ball of twine is in Cawker City, Kansas, and people come from miles around to get their photo taken with it. A farmer named Frank Stoeber began winding the twine ball in 1953, and people continue adding to it to this day. If unwound, the twine would extend to about 8 million feet. Kansas residents consider the twine one of the eight wonders of Kansas.
> Tradition: Burying bottle of bourbon at wedding site
> When: Any time before wedding
Besides college basketball and thoroughbred horses, Kentucky is known for its bourbon. One of the traditions in the Bluegrass State is for a bride and groom to bury a bottle of bourbon at the wedding site to keep rain from ruining their big day. The burial must take place no later than a month prior to the wedding, and the bottle must be full and placed upside down in the ground. After the ceremony, the bottle is dug up and its contents imbibed by wedding guests.
> Tradition: Pinning $1 to lapel of birthday celebrant
> When: Celebrant’s birthday
There are plenty of superstitions and customs down in the bayou. One of the quirkier ones is to pin a $1 bill on the lapel of a shirt of someone celebrating his or her birthday. The idea is to get more people to follow suit to create a cash corsage. The money is used to buy drinks for the birthday celebration.
> Tradition: Valentine’s Day bandit
> When: Valentine’s Day
On Valentine’s Day in 1976, red hearts printed on paper began to appear in storefronts, windows, and telephone poles in Portland. No one claimed credit, or responsibility, for the deed. In the years that followed, the so-called Valentine’s Day bandit left red hearts on federal buildings and police cars. The bandit also hung a giant heart at the civic center in 1984. The unknown bandit continues this tradition to this day.
> Tradition: Crab races
> When: Labor Day weekend
Maryland and crabs go together like Maine and lobsters. The National Hard Crab Derby is an annual event held in the town of Crisfield, which calls itself the Crab Capital of the World. The event features parades, pageants, and rides. There are also two crab races — one for the general public and the other for crabs from all 50 states.
> Tradition: Ugly sweater run
> When: Early December
As if wearing an ugly sweater over the holidays wasn’t punishment enough, in Massachusetts, people pull them on for a 3.1-mile race in Foxborough. Runners who finish the race are rewarded with a Kahlua cocktail, other holiday treats, and an ugly hat to complement the ugly sweater.
> Tradition: Cherry pit spitting
> When: July 7
The 45th annual cherry pit-spitting championship will be held July 7 at the Tree-Mendus Fruit Farm in Eau Claire. Rick “Pellet Gun” Krause from Arizona is a cherry-pit spitting dynasty, having won the title 17 times, including the championship last year. Krause was victorious with a shot of 57 feet, 11 inches.
> Tradition: Raffling meat
> When: Once a week
Meat raffles are part of the social fabric of Minnesota, and they have been held in that state for years. These raffles, which are social events like bingo, got their start in local bars. In recent years, the event has become popular in trendy watering holes in Minnesota cities. Participants pony up a dollar for a ticket for a chance to win a packet of meat.
> Tradition: Quirky Christmas decorations
> When: Holiday season
Christmas displays that typically feature Santa Claus, reindeer, and the Magi, are not enough for some residents of Mississippi. To embellish holiday displays even more, folks in Mississippi sometimes add sea creatures such as octopus and lobsters.
> Tradition: Testicle Festival
> When: June 2
This festival is held in the town of Olean, Missouri, and features such delicacies as Rocky Mountain Oysters (cattle testicles) and turkey testicles. If that doesn’t make your mouth water, there are other food options at the event, which is celebrating its 25th year this year.
> Tradition: Tricycle race in underwear
> When: First week of August
At the annual Testicle Festival in Clinton, Montana, men and women are invited to compete in the Undie 500, where contestants strip down to their underwear and race around in tricycles. The event has been held since 1989.
> Tradition: Cow-chip throwing
> When: Spring
There’s a lot of cattle in Nebraska, and those cattle generate a lot of waste. But the waste doesn’t go to waste in Nebraska, where dried-up cow patties are used in a tossing contest.
> Tradition: Burning Man Festival
> When: Aug. 26-Sept. 3
Organizers of Burning Man think of the event as a cultural community rather than an annual music festival. The event eschews commercialism, a stark contrast to the glitz of Las Vegas, even though event-goers pump in millions of dollars to the local economy. For many, the much-photographed burning wooden effigy that closes the event is a disconcerting image.
29. New Hampshire
> Tradition: UFO Festival
> When: Sept.1-2
The annual UFO Festival in Exeter, New Hampshire, has become a traditional event in New England for those who believe the truth is out there. New Hampshire has had a few celebrated UFO encounters, including the alleged abduction of a New Hampshire couple in 1961.
30. New Jersey
> Tradition: Walk to Washington
> When: Late winter
The “Walk to Washington” is not really a walk but a train ride from New Jersey to Washington D.C., in which politicians traverse the length of the train to schmooze reporters, lobbyists, and business leaders. The 81st version of this tradition was held in early March. Past events had been criticized for excessive drinking and boorish, sexist behavior by those on the train.
31. New Mexico
> Tradition: Zozobra
> When: Friday before Labor Day
Zozobra, also called “Old Man Gloom,” is a 50-foot ghostlike statue that is lit on fire in Santa Fe during the first weekend in September. Zozobra was created as a 6-foot puppet by artist Will Shuster in the 1920s and has since grown to its present height. The burning of Zozobra represents the extinguishing of gloom from the prior year.
32. New York
> Tradition: SantaCon
> When: Holiday season
Like the tree-lighting at Rockefeller Center and the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall, Christmas in New York would not be Christmas without SantaCon. Hundreds of people dressed as Santa Claus come to New York City on a weekend before Christmas to participate in a yuletide pub crawl.
33. North Carolina
> Tradition: National Hollerin’ Contest
> When: October
The National Hollerin’ Contest pays homage to a unique form of communication used in the southeastern part of the United States. Started in 1969, the contest was held annually at Spivey’s Corner, North Carolina. Several times the winner would appear on The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. The event was discontinued after 47 years in 2016, but it was revived and is now held in Hope Mills, North Carolina.
34. North Dakota
> Tradition: Redneck Relay at State Fair
> When: July 20-28
At the North Dakota State Fair, teams compete in a relay that includes the moonshine spit, the corn toss, planting one’s face in a pie to find candy, and carrying a watermelon slathered in Crisco.
> Tradition: Doo Dah Parade
> When: July 4
The Doo Dah Parade in Columbus, Ohio, is a colorful event that is open for anyone. It provides marchers an opportunity to express their opinions on any issue they choose and to dress as they like.
> Tradition: Building giant onion burger
> When: First Saturday in May
El Reno, Oklahoma, located 30 miles outside of Oklahoma City, hosts the fried onion festival where people endeavor to build the biggest fried onion burger known to man. The fried onion hamburger has been cooked in El Reno since the early 1900s.
> Tradition: Zoobomb
> When: Every Sunday
Portland is one of the best American cities to ride your bicycle, and residents celebrate their bike-riding passion with an event called Zoobomb, which has been going on since 2002. As night falls, folks mount children’s bikes, mini bikes, and unicycles, and careen through the city’s streets. And yes, there is drinking going on.
> Tradition: Groundhog Day
> When: Feb. 2
Groundhog Day is one of the more beloved traditions in the United States, as folks await to see the extended weather forecast from Punxsutawney Phil. If it’s cloudy and he doesn’t see his shadow, spring will come early. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of spring. The tradition originated in Pennsylvania and goes back go the 18th century. Apparently Phil is not that accurate. Data from the Stormfax Almanac shows that he’s correct just 39% of the time.
39. Rhode Island
> Tradition: Dressing up Big Blue Bug on holidays
> When: Various Holidays
The Big Blue Bug, a giant steel and fiberglass termite, is the emblem of the New England Pest Control company. It is 58 feet long and is more than 900 times the size of a real termite. The Big Blue Bug, which can be seen off of Interstate 95, has become so associated with Rhode Island that its image appears on that state’s lottery tickets. It’s become tradition to dress up the hulking insect for the holidays — an Uncle Sam hat on the Fourth of July and a witch’s hat on Halloween.
40. South Carolina
> Tradition: Rubbing bone on warts
> When: Full moon
In South Carolina, people have an interesting remedy for warts. They believe that if you rub a chicken bone on warts and then bury the bone during a full moon, the warts will be gone by the next full moon.
41. South Dakota
> Tradition: Mashed Potato Wrestling Contest
> When: Early August
Since 1997, Clark, South Dakota, has played host to Potato Day each August. One of the highlights of the event is the mashed potato wrestling contest, held in a large pit filled with …. mashed potatoes.
> Tradition: Keeping live ducks in Peabody Hotel fountain
> When: Ongoing
The good people of Memphis are determined to keep live ducks in the fountain at the venerable Peabody Hotel. The tradition started in 1932 when the hotel’s general manager and his friend returned from a hunting trip and placed live duck decoys in Peabody’s fountain. Live fowl in the fountain proved to be a hit. Each day at 11 a.m., the ducks march to the fountain to the strains of John Philip Sousa’s “King Cotton March” and return to their rooftop residence at 5 p.m.
> Tradition: Massive bat takeoff
> When: Mid-August
Around mid-August, about 1.5 million bats that had been roosting underneath the Ann W. Richards Congress Avenue Bridge take off at dusk each night. Bat pups are born in June and are nursed by their mothers until mid-August, when they are ready to fly off. The bridge is the largest bat colony in the world and became attractive to the winged creatures following a redesign in 1980 that created more crevices for them to roost.
> Tradition: Leaving love notes in the desert
> When: Any time
Utahns like to show their affection for loved ones by putting notes in the sand along Route 80. Notes can be written into the dirt or formed with rocks. Using the landscape to communicate is a western tradition. People craft giant capital letters by painting stones on hillsides near cities.
> Tradition: Naked Bike Ride
> When: June 9
Vermont, which has been more tolerant of public nudity than other states, has hosted several naked bike rides. A significant one is Montpelier’s observance of World Naked Bike Ride that is held toward the end of spring. The ride, which has been held since 2007, starts at the Freeride Bike Co-op and goes through the center of Vermont’s capital.
> Tradition: Pineapples in Christmas wreaths
> When: Christmas season
You may not think of pineapples as a part of a Christmas wreath, but in Virginia, especially in Williamsburg, the fruit is in embedded in the holiday decoration. Pineapples are found in colonial architecture in the Virginia area and have been part of its culture since at least the mid-17th century.
> Tradition: Fremont Solstice Parade
> When: June 16
The longest day of the year is cause for a parade in Seattle’s funky Fremont neighborhood. The parade features public theater, stilt walkers, bicyclists, and dancers. Anyone can participate as long as they are conveyed by a motorized vehicle and don’t display any logos. The parade’s website says the event is “a kaleidoscope of joyous human expressions.”
48. West Virginia
> Tradition: Roadkill Cook-off
> When: Early September
Every September, Marlington, West Virginia, plays host to the roadkill cook-off. People can sample the culinary splendor of squirrel gravy and deer sausage, foods derived from the animals that met an untimely end along the highways of the state. In previous years, the cook-off has been shown on the Food Network, the Travel Channel, and the Discovery Channel.
> Tradition: Cheese wedge and carp drop on New Year’s
> When: New Year’s
Wisconsin can claim two quirky ways to usher in the new year. Since 2007, merrymakers in Plymouth ring in the new year by watching a metallic replica of a giant wedge of cheese (this is Wisconsin after all) festooned with lights get lowered by a ladder truck. In Prairie du Chien, revelers bring in the new year by dressing up a freshly caught carp that is frozen, done up with makeup and lights, and is lowered by a crane. Once the new year starts, people kiss the fish for good luck.
> Tradition: Cheyenne Zombiefest
> When: Sept. 15
It might not be the zombie apocalypse, but the Zombiefest is a big deal in Cheyenne, as the undead take over downtown. Features of the annual event include an undead fashion show, a zombie prom, and a walking ghost tour of downtown Cheyenne. Proceeds from Cheyenne’s traditional event go to the Cheyenne Little Theatre.
Sponsored: Want to Retire Early? Here’s a Great First Step
Want retirement to come a few years earlier than you’d planned? Or are you ready to retire now, but want an extra set of eyes on your finances?
Now you can speak with up to 3 financial experts in your area for FREE. By simply clicking here you can begin to match with financial professionals who can help you build your plan to retire early. And the best part? The first conversation with them is free.
Click here to match with up to 3 financial pros who would be excited to help you make financial decisions.
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us?
Contact the 24/7 Wall St. editorial team.