A festival full of fun and frolic, the La Tomatina is a unique annual event, held in the Valencian town of Buñol in Spain. The event takes place on the last Wednesday of August every year. During this festival, large crowds gather at open spaces, armed with thousands of tomatoes, which they throw at each other, smear and smash on others, all completely for entertainment purpose. During this time, tourists from other parts of the globe also arrive at Buñol to witness the event or to participate in the festival.
La Tomatino started only in recent times in 1944 or 1945. There are a number of stories related to its beginning but no one knows for sure the exact origin of this festival. One of the most popular beliefs regarding its origin states that a fight between the locals and the city councilmen over an issue that cropped up during a celebration, forced the locals to throw tomatoes at the councilmen. The event somehow transformed from a method to display anger to one of fun and entertainment and then year after year, the “tomato fight” began to engage and engross the public of Buñol. Various other theories are also put forward to explain the origin of La Tomatina. Juvenile fights on the basis of class wars, an accidental spillage of tomatoes from a truck, and a bombardment of tomatoes by bystanders at a carnival parade have all been stated as reasons behind the initiation of La Tomatina. However, for a brief of time, the festival suffered a setback when the Spanish General Francisco Franco banned this event as it had no religious associations. After his death, however, the event returned on popular demand. In 1975, the significance of the festival heightened when the patron of the town of Buñol, San Luis Bertrán, organized the event. In 1980, the organization of the festival became the responsibility of the town council and soon La Tomatina became internationally significant and highly publicized via international media.
Celebrations and Rules
On the day of the La Tomatina festival, trucks arrive at the city center of Plaza del Pueblo, carrying truckloads of tomatoes belonging to the relatively cheaper stocks from Extremadura. The trucks then empty the tomatoes on the streets to be picked up by the participants. There is a tradition where an individual has to accept the dare to climb a two-story high, greased wooden pole to grab a ham hung at the top of the pole. This heralds the beginning of the festival but since it is a difficult task to complete, the tomato-throwing often starts earlier, at about 11 a.m. People pick up the tomatoes on the streets, hurling tomatoes at each other. Certain rules apply during this period. People are expected to squash the tomatoes before throwing them at others to minimize the chances of injury and no other objects except for tomatoes can be used in the play. The tomato throwing ends in about an hour and after that extensive cleaning operations begin. The town authorities get busy cleaning the streets while local residents often help the tourists clean themselves with water supplies from hose pipes. Many take dips in locals pools and rivers to clean themselves.
Over the past few years, tourist footfall in Buñol has heavily increased due to the increasing popularity of La Tomatina. In 2012, a record 50,000 participants participated in the festival. However, such a huge gathering in a small space at the town center is believed to threaten the safety of the people.This has forced the government to regulate the number of participants at the festival to 20,000 to avoid unfavorable circumstances and maintain safety standards. An entry fee to the festival has also been levied by the government while free passes are kept for the locals of Buñol. Safety officials, police forces, ambulance and helicopter services are also kept ready by the government to meet any emergency needs during the festival. The festival is attended by people of all ages but people between the ages of 18 to 35 form the greatest bulk of the participants. Festival special merchandise like La Tomatina T-shirts and cups are also sold in the town during the festival days.
The La Tomatina concept of Buñol has inspired many similar events in other parts of the world. For example, in Sutamarchán, a town in Colombia, a tomato-throwing event is held annually on June 15th when a surplus of tomatoes are harvested. In USA, the Twin Lakes town in Colorado hosts a tomato-fight since 1982 known as the “Colorado Texas Tomato War”. Other places celebrating similar events include San José de Trojas in Costa Rica, Dongguan in China, Reno in the USA, and Quillón in Chile. Attempts were made to host tomato fights in several Indian cities but were banned when the authorities and public criticized the event as a “waste of tomatoes”. However, very recently, Shillong, a city in northeast India, hosted the Indian version of La Tomatina for the first time in the country, which was attended by over 100 people.