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When you think of a vegetarian festival, you probably picture something pretty innocuous, right? If that’s the case, you’re going to be surprised by what goes on at Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival in Phuket every year.

Celebrated by ethnic Chinese Thai, the festival is most famous for images that are more than a little disturbing to those of us who are on the outside looking in.

At first glance, this festival looks pretty normal.

At first glance, this festival looks pretty normal.

Locals parade through the streets wearing colorful garb, and people from all walks of life get involved in the festivities.

Nothing to see here, right?

Nothing to see here, right?

But take a closer look at that photo. If it looks like that guy is walking around with a sword pierced through his cheeks, it’s because he is.

Throughout this annual celebration, men, women, and children parade through Phuket with knives, swords, guns, and other bizarre objects pierced through their cheeks.

Throughout this annual celebration, men, women, and children parade through Phuket with knives, swords, guns, and other bizarre objects pierced through their cheeks.

They’re even known to walk over hot coals in the process.

While it may seem insane to us, this is actually a deeply spiritual act.

While it may seem insane to us, this is actually a deeply spiritual act.

The gesture symbolizes the idea that participants absorb the community’s sins by inflicting these wounds upon themselves.

In order to participate in the festival, which dates back to the late 19th century, people must abstain from eating meat, having sex, and consuming alcohol for its ten-day duration.

In order to participate in the festival, which dates back to the late 19th century, people must abstain from eating meat, having sex, and consuming alcohol for its ten-day duration.

This is a time of spiritual cleansing and renewal that is extremely important for Thai citizens of Chinese descent.

This is a time of spiritual cleansing and renewal that is extremely important for Thai citizens of Chinese descent.

Every October, people flock to the region to experience this intriguing celebration for themselves.

Every October, people flock to the region to experience this intriguing celebration for themselves.

(via Mashable)

Even though it may be hard for us to understand why people would go to such lengths for a festival like this, it’s important to honor and respect the traditions of other cultures. Customs and rituals like the ones carried out during Thailand’s Vegetarian Festival are what make the human race great. We’re all completely unique in our traditions and beliefs, and that’s a beautiful thing.

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