Tradition! Here’s a tomato in-your-face!


La Tomatina in Buñol, Valencia, Spain


by Mary Foran

It’s high time to reserve your spot in the Spanish Festival called “La Tomatina”! This is an annual event sponsored by the good folks of the smallish town of Buñol, Valencia, Spain.

The crush of the crowds and the crushing tomatoes make this one of the wildest of Spanish festivals, but a lot safer than the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona. It is always held on the last Wednesday in August, but it has become so popular that it is wise to think ahead and reserve a place to take a quick shower, change your plastered tomatoed T-shirt and pants or shorts, and actually get some sleep!

Planning ahead for your visit to the Festival (duly approved by the Spanish Authorities), you will definitely need a change of clothing. The 2018 Festival date is August 29th; 2019 is August 28th; 2020 is August 26th, and so on.

There are tomato-throwing festivals in the U.S.A. too (I wonder where they got the idea…hmm.). As it turns out, La Tomatina has influenced many countries, and it all started as somewhat of a brawl in 1945 in Buñol.

As the story goes, some rowdy young people were attending the Giants and Big Heads figures parade in the town square. They decided to join the parade of musicians and costumed participants on the floats. One youngster fell off, and in a fit of pique, started to hit everything in his path. That started people grabbing tomatoes off of the market stands and pelting each other until local authorities put a stop to that.

The following year, a similar fight was picked by the young people there, with tomatoes brought from home. Police quelled the activity in subsequent years, but history had been made by the young people without them realizing it all that much. La Tomatina was banned in the early 50s. Some of the participants were even arrested, but their attitude about tomato-throwing was: so what? The people in the town spoke, and the festivity was again allowed, with more participants and more enthusiasm.

Once again in 1957, the festivity was canceled, and as a sign of protest, a tomato burial was held with a large tomato in a coffin, with funeral marching music and all. It was a total success!

La Tomatina  Festival was finally allowed and lo and behold, it became an official festivity. “As a result of the report of Javier Basilio” which was broadcast on Informe Semanal, a Spanish Television program, the festival started to become known in the rest of Spain.

Since then, the number of participants has only increased year after year. In 2002, La Tomatina of Buñol was declared “Festivity of International Tourist Interest” by the Department of Tourism Secretary, due to its success.

The tomato-pelting usually lasts for about an hour. The town square then has to be hosed down by fire trucks standing by. Some locals provide hoses to spray down the tomato-plastered participants. Some use the “Los Peñones” pool to wash themselves off. Since tomatoes contain citric acid, the streets are literally washed clean.

Since 2013, only paid ticket holders are allowed to participate. Thus the need to plan ahead. As an example of the truckloads of tomatoes required for this festival, it is estimated that in 2015 some 145,000 kg of tomatoes were thrown and squished.

Festival Rules are as follows:

  1. Do not throw bottles or hard objects
  2. Do not tear or throw T-Shirts
  3. Squash tomatoes before throwing them to avoid hurting others
  4. Keep a safe distance from trucks
  5. Stop throwing tomatoes after the second starter pistol is shot
  6. Follow the directions of the Security Staff

Now if you can’t make it to Buñol this summer for the festival, there are other similar festivals inspired by Spain’s La Tomatina. These include the following:

Since 1982, in the town of Twin Lakes, Lake County, Colorado, there has been a tomato fight called the “Colorado Texas Tomato War”. Texans and Coloradans square off with tomato-pelting. The Coloradans also attempt to overtake Texans’ straw Effigy of The Alamo, generally succeeding.

Since 2004, the Colombian town of Sutamarchán, a tomato-pelting festival is held on the 15th of June when a surplus of tomatoes is harvested. Too late for this year!

In Costa Rica, the town of San José de Trojas (Valverde Vega Canton) celebrates a Tomatina during the local Tomato Fair.

In the town of Dongguan in southern Guandong province in China, a tomato fight is held on October 19th, with an estimated 15 tons of tomatoes used.

In the city of Reno, Nevada, U.S.A., there is an hour-long annual tomato fight that began in 2009. They hold it on the last Sunday of August and it is organized by the American Cancer Society. They call it “La Tomatina” and full credit is given to Spain for the inspiration.

Milwaukee’s East Side Association, in the town of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.A., holds an annual Tomato Romp during the month of September in coordination with a Bloody Mary drinking contest. It has been held every year since 2009 and is limited to 250 people in a caged-in area.

On March 26th, 2013 at Funtasia Water Park in Patna, India, La Tomatina Holi event was held on Funtasia Island.

A Tomatina-style festival was banned by the Government in the cities of Bangalore and Mysore when private organizers tried it. The Karnataka State Government’s Chief Minister, D.V. Sadananda Gowda was quoted as saying: “In the name of ‘LaTomatina’ festival, permission should not be granted to waste tomatoes”. A similar tomato festival attempt was made in Delhi, but it was canceled after a negative response from the public.

Tickets for the Spanish Tomatina Festival can be purchased through the Buñol Town Council website. Reserved Tickets are required to participate. You can go through a tour agency to reserve your place in the mayhem! Upwards of 50,000 people have been counted at the festivities in previous years. Many just make it a day trip from Valencia, 40 km from Buñol. Check the train times on first, and book your accommodations in advance.

Remember, Buñol is a town of usually around 9,000 people, so the influx of tourists overloads the local facilities. Valencia has budget hostels and hotels, but reservations are suggested.

Have fun and be safe!


Featured image/flydime-La Tomatina, CC BY-SA2.0