On the last Wednesday of August each year, the world’s largest food fight takes place in Buñol, a small town in the province of Valencia, Spain. La Tomatina attracts 22,000 people from around the world that gather together to enjoy the unique battle of tomatoes experience. The tomato fight itself lasts about an hour as Spaniards and tourists come together as they paint the town red.

Image Credits:  Flikr / La Tomatina taken by Travis Britton

How Did It All Begin?

The festival actually started at the end of World War II with its touristic interest beginning in 2002. Although there is some debate around how the festival started, it is believed that it began with a group of young people in the main square of Buñol. In 1945 locals were watching a parade of giants, when suddenly a group of people started a fight with the nearest thing they could get their hands on: the tomatoes on a nearby vegetable stand. 

It is said that, due to how entertaining it was, the tradition escalated continuing each year. This tradition was banned for years during the Franco government as there was no religious motivation to justify the festival taking place. However, in 1959 people began to celebrate again. a.a.a.a.a amas. mas . mas 

What Happens at La Tomatina?

Due to its popularity and world-wide recognition, coaches leave from several points in Spain including: Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid and more. With different types of tickets, each package varies. The best-sellers include paella, a Valencian special, a Tomatina commemorative t-shirt and access to the fun zone which is full of music and surprises. 

It wouldn’t be a Spanish celebration without ham. The fun kicks off at 10am with a competition involving the palo jamón – the ham pole. Participants climb up a wooden pole covered in greasy ham which is placed in the town square. With crowds singing and cheering in encouragement, the objective is to reach a leg of ham at the top of the pole which the winner gets to keep.

Image Credits:  Flikr / La Tomatina taken by Kuba Abramowicz

When the food fight begins?

As soon as someone wins the ham, a signal sounds and the tomato fight begins. The food fight begins with a whopping 150,000 over-ripe tomatoes are thrown and splattered in the streets. As lorries draw up with tons of tomatoes, people from all different corners of the world unite in unconventional ways as they throw tomatoes at each other. But, do not fear, no one gets hurt. The tomatoes have to be crushed before they are thrown, and it’s advised that you bring goggles to stop the acid of the fruit getting into your eyes. Voilà – a pain free fight! 

After an hour of tomato-throwing fun, the horn sounds and locals .and staff dedicate their time to hosing down the participants in order to clean off the tomato residue. After the fight, the fiesta begins with paella and drink for those who wish to continue. Some participants even make their way to the local river, Los Peñones, to cool off. The coaches leave at 2pm leaving locals and party-goers to continue the festival in Buñol.  

What Do The Locals Think About La Tomatina?

The messy event that unites thousands of tourists from all over the globe has attracted controversy over the years. However, this year with the 2020 celebration cancelled due to Covid-19 it is clear that the celebration will be missed. María Vallés, the city councillor specialising in Tourism and La Tomatina in Buñol explains that the cancellation of the 75th anniversary of the event has been received with “sadness, nostalgia and streets much emptier than normal.” but.but.but. but. but. but. but. but. but. but.but. but.but. but. but. but. but. but. but. 

What’s the impact of the festival cancellation?

In fact, the cancellation of the celebration also means an estimated 2-million euro loss for the tourism sector in the Valencia province. Vallés explains that “many people stay overnight in the city of Valencia or come, for example, to Cullera for a few days to be close to Buñol for La Tomatina. The truth is that the impact is .felt over all of the province.”

The fact that many bars and restaurants on the day of the event earn “half of the yearly income” represents a big loss for the locals. Alongside the fact that many participate in the fun with thousands of tickets saved just for the locals. As of 2013, there is also a separate event, La Tomatina Infantil, which takes place on the last Saturday of August so that kids aged between 4 and 14 can also take part in the fun.

Image Credits:  Flikr / La Tomatina taken by Kuba Abramowick

What Do the New Generation Think of the Celebration?

Not only is this celebration a hit for tourists, but it’s also big with the Spaniards too. The uniqueness and alternative element of the event attracts many young Spanish to La Tomatina. Even for those that haven’t yet given it a go, many are willing to try it .out with future intentions to attend the cool tradition. It’s a well-known fact that the Spanish love a good fiesta, so this is considered the perfect event .to do something different and have fun in the process.

It is a great way to live a slightly distinctive Spanish tradition. Surprisingly, there are no bulls at this event! A relief for many of the younger .generation is the fact that it is actually way more ecological than it seems. 

Is La Tomatina a Waste of Food?

Many condemn the festival as a waste of food. While millions of people suffering from the worldwide issue of. food deprivation. However, there is no cause for alarm as the fruit stockpiled for the event is the fruit that doesn’t pass the. standard requirements meaning they are rotten or too soft to be sold. 

In fact, the tomatoes actually have a benefit. that goes beyond just being thrown. Did you know that the acid from the tomato cleans the streets of the town? It’s basically a natural, more environmentally friendly alternative. to bleaching the streets back to spotlessness.

Do you want to find out more about different cultural traditions around the world? Check this post about "Russian traditions and Pancake week".

Author: Laura Gilbert

Laura is a buddy at SPEAK. Laura is from England and has a passion for writing and a love for Spain, her country of residence. She loves reading, outdoor adventures and animals.

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