By Angela Padrón
Spain is known for many cultural festivals, such as the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona and Semana Santa—the festival of Big Heads, or Holy Week— during Easter. However, if you’re looking to participate in a unique event, go to Spain for the world’s biggest food fight: La Tomatina. Just don’t forget to bring some old clothes or a plastic poncho, because this festival is a messy one!
Since 1945, La Tomatina has generally taken place on the last Wednesday in August. The tradition lasts for about an hour between the hours of 11:00 am and 1:00 pm. How the tradition began is still unclear. Some people think it started with young people throwing food at each other for fun, others think townspeople threw tomatoes at local politicians with whom they had disagreements. The most popular accounting is that during the Gigantes y Cabezudos parade in the city of Buñol, some young Spaniards wanted to join the parade and knocked over someone in their giant head costume. A fight ensued and the young folks took some tomatoes from a nearby vegetable stand to throw at the parade worker. When the police came, the fight broke up. The next year, young folks returned and started another tomato fight. Despite efforts by the police and local government officials, the food fights reoccurred each year and the rest is history.
During La Tomatina, there are a few rules to follow to ensure that the fun doesn’t get out of control. First, people have to soften the tomatoes to be thrown to avoid seriously injuring someone. Nothing besides tomatoes may be thrown. Also, when the trucks come to drop off the tomatoes, or when the vehicles come to clean the streets, participants must move out of the way. When the sign is given to indicate that the last tomato will be thrown, the festival is over.
Thousands of visitors come from all over the world to participate in La Tomatina each year. Many bring swimming goggles to protect their eyes from tomato juice. The number of people coming to Spain for this summer festival has grown to so many that tickets must now be reserved to partake in the festival. The streets are overcrowded and traffic is a huge inconvenience. Even though the whole event is messy and sounds crazy, people can’t get enough of it. If you do attend, one thing is for sure—be glad you don’t have to clean up all those tomatoes!