On the last day of August each year, the tiny town of Buñol, Spain explodes with activity as 20,000 people pack themselves into the otherwise uncrowded streets. Their mission? To fling as many tomatoes as possible at as many people as possible.
Depending on who you are, this could either sound like an ideal vacation or a nightmare, but there’s clearly something about it that ignites a great deal of curiosity in tourists and locals, alike.
No one’s really sure how it all started
People have been throwing tomatoes in Buñol since about 1944, but the exact origins of the tradition remain a mystery to this day. A popular story claims that during a town celebration, several less-than-satisfied townspeople attacked city council members using handfuls of tomatoes. Others say it was simply the result of an accidental truck spill, or what started as a small food fight among friends. In any case, people enjoyed the tomato war so much that it quickly became a yearly tradition, always taking place on the last Wednesday of August.
Fun fact: the event was banned during most of the Francisco Franco years for not having any religious significance, but was welcomed back with open arms after his death in 1975. Now, the festival has grown so popular that city officials recently added an entry fee and were forced to limit the number of tickets being sold. We don’t blame them — Buñol is home to just 9,000 people on a normal day. Talk about cramped conditions!
The festival kicks off around 11:00am, as a large jamón [ham] is placed on top of a tall pole in the center of town (Spaniards take great pride in their ham, so making it the crown jewel of La Tomatina seems rather fitting). The first person to climb the pole and grab the jamón signals the official start of the event, and trucks begin to dump their loads of fruit on the ground. Within minutes, the fight is in full swing as the streets become crowded with red-stained bodies.
It probably goes without saying at this point that La Tomatina is extremely messy. We’re talking roughly 145,000 kg of tomatoes flying through the air, so if you’re headed to the festivities this year, be sure to pack a clean change of clothes. Most participants bring goggles as well, to avoid getting the tangy juice in their eyes.
After about an hour, the tomato throwing subsides and it’s time for the crucial hosing-off portion. Thankfully, there are numerous fire trucks and kind residents to help out with the cleanup duties. Consider yourself lucky if you can manage to scrape the seeds out of your hair!
Join the celebration
We love to highlight fun, unique festivals like La Tomatina because of the cultural insight they provide. In Mango Languages’ language courses, you’ll not only nail down the grammar and the conversation, but you’ll also get the scoop on more cultural traditions and how this information can enhance your language-learning process.
If you liked this post and can’t wait to get your hands on some La Tomatina tickets, why not tackle a bit of Spanish while you’re at it? You’ll be speaking (and throwing tomatoes) like a local in no time.