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Tossing food at total strangers is not something that is acceptable in most settings. However, at the La Tomatina festival in Bunol, Spain, it is not just accepted but encouraged. That's because the whole purpose of the event that is held annually on the last Wednesday of August is to pelt friends and total strangers with as many tomatoes as possible.
This year's event that took place on August 26th was extra special given that it was believed to be the 70th anniversary since the accidental start of what is now the world's biggest food fight. So how did this sleepy town of 10,000 residents become the venue for this popular event that features a produce it doesn't even grow?
Nobody knows for sure, but there are numerous folklores. One popular one attributes it to some teenagers that were forbidden to participate in a town parade. According to the story, the youngsters were so upset that they began pelting the floats with tomatoes from a nearby vegetable vendor. Soon all bystanders joined in, and a food battle ensued. Others believe that it all started when some disgruntled residents decided to throw tomatoes at a city official during a town celebration.
Whatever the origin, the fight was so much fun that locals returned to reenact the event every year on the last Wednesday of August. After several attempts to stop them failed, the officials succumbed and in 1957, La Tomatina became an official festival. However, it remained a well-kept secret known only to the locals for many years. Then in the 1980's, word of this fun event started to trickle out and began attracting thrill-seekers from all over the world. Today, La Tomatina is one Spain's most famous festivals, second only to Pamplona's “Running of the Bulls.”
Despite the ever-growing crowds, the food fight remained free and accessible to anyone that wished to attend. However, things changed after 2012 when an unprecedented 50,000 people descended upon the small town. Fearing that the festival could get unruly, since 2013, the officials have restricted the number of individuals to around 20,000. Attendees also have to pay €10 Euros ($13 USD) each to help cover the rising festival costs.
Though the one-hour tomato-throwing remains the centerpiece of the La Tomatina, the festival celebrations last almost the entire week. Visitors are treated to colorful parades, dancing, and even fireworks. On the night before the fight, the streets of Bunol are lined up with vendors preparing giant pans of delicious Paella on wood-burning fires. Tourists and locals alike, gather to enjoy the party that lasts late into the night.
On the day of the big event, area businesspeople scramble to shutter their shops and cover the storefronts with tarps. At 10.00 A.M. participants flock to the town's Plaza Mayor for the opening ceremony. The festival begins with a brave volunteer scaling a two-story greased pole to pluck the Spanish ham that lies atop. Though the rules state that the food fight can only commence after he/she succeeds, the easygoing officials treat any valiant attempt as the signal to sound the siren to get the party started.
Almost magically, volunteers aboard five trucks carrying about 150 tons of tomatoes offload their wares into the hands of the eagerly awaiting visitors and the friendly battle begins. By the end of the hour, the participants and streets are covered with tomato mush! After a quick rinse using one of the hose showers set up by residents or a refreshing dip in the nearby Bunol River, revelers enjoy a scrumptious Spanish lunch. Then it's time to take a well-deserved siesta and make plans for next year's La Tomatina!
Resources: guardian.co.uk, huffingtonpost.com, vox.com, ibtimes.com.au