7 of the Weirdest Traditions in the US

  • Are they weird? Yes. Are they fun? Also yes.

America is big — really big. Although our country isn’t that old on a global scale, we more than make up for our youth with sheer size.

And with so much of the country out there, is it any wonder that there are all manners of local traditions and customs in different corners of the U.S.?

Yet, when you have that many traditions, all of them can’t be the most distinguished. Some are whimsical, others harebrained, and you still have some left over that are just plain weird.

Here are some of the strangest traditions from all over America.

1. Presidential Turkey Pardon (Federal)

Thanksgiving is a death sentence for many, many turkeys every year. The U.S. President pardons one turkey each year to try and atone for the wanton slaughter.

It’s a heartwarming little spectacle. Except it’s really not when you start looking into it.

The tradition got started (officially) in 1947 by President Harry S. Truman. However, up to the ‘70s, the pardon didn’t mean much — the Presidential party usually ate the turkey afterward.

During President George H.W. Bush, sparing the turkey became the norm. Unfortunately, they probably still won’t get to live long.

Farmed turkeys are so overfed and obese that they usually die within a year of the pardon.

2. Roadkill Cook-Off (West Virginia)

There’s a lot of wildlife up in the Appalachian Mountains. The town of Marlinton, West Virginia, celebrates the abundance of animals in a bizarre way.

Annually, they eat the critters that get squished by the roadside.

Part of the Autumn Harvest Festival, the Roadkill Cook-Off has taken place since 1991. Teams of cooks compete to prepare mouthwatering treats with dead animals found on the roadside.

Okay, the cook-off is a bit tongue-in-cheek. The official rules state that the meat doesn’t have to come from actual roadkill (and that the judges would really prefer it if it didn’t).

Still, groundhog, opossum, deer, rabbit, and squirrel are all regular ingredients on the menu.

3. Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship (Michigan)

Every fall, Eau Claire, Michigan, was a global center of attention. At least if you’re really into spitting cherry pits.

The town hosted the International Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship for 45 years. Since 1971, hardcore cherry pit spitters gathered there to test their mettle.

The rules were simple. Take three cherries and, one by one, chew the flesh around the pit and then spit the pit as far as you can.

Unfortunately, the contest came to an end in 2019 when the hosting Tree-mendus Fruit Farm was sold. But this tradition is still worth remembering.

4. Mike the Headless Chicken Festival (Colorado)

Don’t worry, the Headless Chicken Festival doesn’t feature any decapitations. It’s just a running competition in Fruita, Colorado.

It does commemorate one headless chicken, though. On September 10, 1945, Lloyd Olsen chopped the head off one of his chickens to cook him for dinner.

But the chicken, Mike, refused to give up the ghost. According to the story, Mike lived without a head for 18 months while nearly growing four-fold in weight.

Is the story true? Who cares. It’s a great excuse to get together and run like a headless chicken.

5. Lemon Sticks (Maryland)

The lemon sticks from Baltimore, Maryland, are sold during the mid-spring Flower Mart. And they’re one strange refreshment.

To prepare a lemon stick, you stick a peppermint stick into a halved lemon. To enjoy the treat, you squeeze the lemon and slurp up the juice that runs down the peppermint candy.

On the way, it picks up the taste of the peppermint. According to those that have tried them, the lemon stick is a refreshing, minty, sweet “drink.”

6. Santacon (New York)

Every year, Santa comes to New York City — twice! Or maybe a few hundred times.

Santacon sees hundreds of Santas (and reindeer and the occasional Jesus and Christmas tree) gather in NYC. The throng then wanders around the city, visiting various drinking establishments to get sauced up.

The event does have strict rules. The Santas are, for example, required to spread joy, not vomit or fights with the cops.

Nonetheless, some local bars have strict NO SANTAS policy in place. We think maybe the crowd isn’t always as holly-jolly as expected.

7. Ostrich Festival (Arizona)

If we had to pick the weirdest tradition in the U.S., the Ostrich Festival in Chandler, Arizona, would be a pretty strong contender. Yet, it’s firmly rooted in local tradition.

Ostrich farming in Chandler began in the early 1900s. At the time, ostrich racing became a relatively popular pastime.

It’s like horse racing, just with ostriches.

Today, there are no longer any ostrich races. But ostriches still roam freely around the festival area.