Most definitely the best-known festival in Spain after the Sanfermines — or the Running of the Bulls — is La Tomatina. This world-famous event is a giant tomato fight which takes place in the streets of the town of Buñol, near Valencia, in the east of Spain. The festival consists of participants hurling tomatoes at one another in what certainly must be the biggest food fight in the world. Having started in the middle of the 20th century, the festival grew to include as many as fifty thousand participants, but since last year has been limited to only twenty thousand people, all of which must get tickets to have access to the town center to partake in the day’s festivities. Just like every year, La Tomatina is celebrated on the last Wednesday of August, this year’s date being the 27th, which is only a week away!
Origin of La Tomatina
There are several versions regarding the origin of this peculiar event, some of which include tomatoes being thrown at a bad street musician as a joke, angry townspeople pelting city councilmen, or an excessive amount of tomatoes spilling from a truck and later being used for an impromptu food fight. The most accepted of all the theories, however, affirms that it all started in 1945 when some young people who were watching the festivities celebrated in the town’s main square in honor of the patron saint, decided to join the parade. Somehow in doing so, they managed to knock over one of the legitimate participants, who retaliated by hitting those around him. As fate would have it, though, there was a vegetable stand close by, from which the townspeople grabbed tomatoes and began throwing them at each other.
The next year the scene was recreated in the town’s main square, this time the inhabitants bringing their own tomatoes. Just as the year before, however, the authorities stopped the tomato fight. The 1950s would see La Tomatina banned some years, while during others it was allowed to take place. In fact, some people who participated when the festival was prohibited were punished with jail time. In 1957, as a response to the government ban on the event, some young people celebrated a mock funeral for a giant tomato, which included a coffin and even musicians. Eventually, the ban would be lifted and the celebration would be allowed by the authorities. It wasn’t until 1983, however, when La Tomatina would become popular in all of Spain thanks to a television news report on the subject at the hands of Javier Basilio.
The Festivities in Buñol
La Tomatina begins at 11:00 am and last just one hour, concluding at noon. As you can imagine, the event consists of all 20.000 participants throwing tomatoes at each other, resulting in a colossal food fight which stains the entire town center red. The tomatoes are thrown from trucks which move slowly through the town, from which everyone gets their ‘ammunition’. So that everything runs smoothly and a good time is had by all, the Buñol town council makes a number of recommendations for those partaking.
First of all, participants are expected to squash tomatoes before throwing them, thus greatly reducing the risk of injury. Also, it is recommended that everyone wear old clothes which they do not intend on wearing again once the tomato fight is over, as they will be permanently stained red. Close-toed shoes are also recommended, as well as goggles or a mask — tomato juice is rather acidic and can cause your eyes to sting. Remember that you’re not allowed to enter the town center with bottles or any other hard objects which could cause bodily harm. Lastly, be aware of the fact that it is prohibited to rip other people’s shirts and that you must follow all safety protocols.
Ready for Next Week?
Chances are that if you’re reading this now, it’s a bit late to make plans to go to La Tomatina. You never know, though. If you can manage to get a ticket and a place to stay somehow, you might just be in luck. In the meantime, you can practice your tomato-throwing skills and if it’s not this time, there’s always next year!