By Abe Villarreal
In Deming, New Mexico, a small town surrounded by a large open desert on one side and an interstate on the other, there is a tradition that most people might think is a little hard to believe. It happens each year in late summer, and it's called the Great American Duck Race.
If you are there to see it with your own eyes, you would agree that it is great, uniquely American, and well, something to quack about. Like any other traditional festivals, the Duck Race has food vendors, family games, and a parade. The highlight is watching ducks racing down lanes of water, flapping and splashing, and trying to make it to the finish line first.
There are other events that for generations feel like can't-miss great American traditions. In Hatch, New Mexico, an even smaller town in an even more isolated location, a Chile Queen is crowned each year and paraded across the village-sized streets. She waves to parade watchers and is proud to be known as the most royal representative to a town billed as the Chile Capital of the World.
For over 30 years, the 6,000 residents of Alma, Arkansas have been celebrating spinach. No worries if the leafy green stuff isn't your favorite food item. The daylong event often includes a pancake breakfast and even spaghetti dinner. Braver festival attendees participate in the Spinach Eating Contest. There is even a Spinach Drop were local Rotarians drop spinach from the top of a fire engine ladder. To further display their spinach affection, in the town center, a bronze statue of Popeye was erected in 2007.
I wonder how odd and peculiar festivals of these kinds are born. Someone, sometime ago, probably a farmer or a pie-making grandma thought it would be good to celebrate the one thing that brings the town together. In some places it's a food item, in others a condiment.
Like in Collinsville, Illinois where the residents are proud to be the home of the world's largest ketchup bottle. The 70-foot bottle is not only a sight to see but it also serves as a water tower. Just a few years ago, during the World's Largest Catsup Bottle Festival Birthday Party and Car Show, the World's Largest Idaho Potato truck pulled up along with Larry and the Tater Twins. Sounds like a mouthful of an event.
About 35 years ago, the crafty people of St. Charles, Illinois, a town of 33,000 people, thought to combine their love of the fall season with their love of scarecrows together and the annual Scarecrow Fest was born. It has grown to quite the event including music, dance, car shows, and pumpkin carving.
What I like about these weekends of celebration is that they're honoring something unique about their identities. The people of these often overlooked communities are proud about who they are and what has made them a town different from others.
The 500 people of tiny Spivey's Corner, North Carolina, have something worth hollerin' about. Each year since 1969, the Hollerin' Contest annual fair brings the people of this rural community together to keep the tradition and communication art of hollerin' alive. Fair attendees holler in more ways than you can imagine. At the end of the day, we all have something to say, might as well make a festival out of it.
It's nice to be known for something. More meaningful than being the capital of company headquarters or corporate offices, is being known for celebrating a simple bagel or homegrown jam.
When your community is recognized for the traditions of ordinary people, somehow the celebrations around them become extraordinary events worth experiencing.
Abe Villarreal writes about the people, culture, and traditions of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.