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La Tomatina – Spain’s Big Tomato Fight

Buñol, Spain —(Map)

La Tomatina is a fun fight with tomatoes held once a year in a small town in Spain. On Wednesday, 20,000 people came from around the world to take part in what is called “the world’s largest food fight”.

La Tomatina started in 1945 in Buñol, Spain. People tell different stories about how it began. Some people blame it on children causing trouble. Others say people were angry at the town’s government. But most stories agree that there was a real argument which people fought with tomatoes. It was a big enough tomato fight that people remembered it and acted it out again the next year for fun.

Overview of Buñol rooftops.
Buñol is a small Spanish town of about 9.000 people.
Since 1945, they have had a tomato throwing festival.
(Source: JFCSvalencia, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The festival has grown a lot since it began, even though it was stopped for about 20 years by a very strict Spanish leader who did not approve of it.

After the celebration started drawing crowds of more than 40,000 people, the town decided to limit the numbers. After all, the town itself only has about 9,000 people. So now they sell tickets to raise money. This year they sold 20,000 tickets.

Two men grease a pole
Two men grease a pole before standing it up and hanging a ham at the top.
To begin the festival, someone is supposed to climb the pole and get the ham..
(Source: puuikibeach, via Wikimedia Commons.)

La Tomatina always happens on the last Wednesday of August. To get things started, there is a tall, greasy pole that has a ham hanging from the top. Really, no one is supposed to start throwing tomatoes until someone has climbed the greasy pole and gotten the ham. But often people get tired of waiting for someone to reach the ham and they just begin throwing tomatoes.

People throw tomatoes from a truck
People throw tomatoes from seven trucks which are packed full of tomatoes.
Soon the crowd begins throwing them, too.
(Source: flydime, via Wikimedia Commons.)

At 11 o’clock, a firework goes off, and this marks the true beginning of the tomato throwing. This year, seven trucks brought in almost 320,000 pounds (145,000 kilograms) of tomatoes. Once people begin throwing tomatoes, the fun fight lasts for about an hour. Soon everyone is slipping and sliding in the pool of tomato juice on the ground.

The people who are taking part wear old clothes. Many people wear goggles or masks to keep the tomato juice out of their eyes.

Big tomato fight in Buñol, Spain.
The tomato fight lasts for an hour.
Many people wear goggles or masks to keep the tomato juice out of their eyes.
(Source: flydime, via Wikimedia Commons.)

People are not allowed to throw anything except tomatoes, and the tomatoes must be squashed before they are thrown. That means people are really only throwing pieces of tomatoes.

At 12 noon, a second firecracker goes off, marking the end of the tomato throwing. The streets are washed off by fire trucks. And the tomato-covered crowd either gets hosed off by people who live in the town, or they rinse off in the nearby river.

Crowd in a pool of tomato juice after a huge tomato fight.
After the fight, firetrucks wash the streets clean.
The tomato-covered crowd can get hosed off or rinse themselves in the Buñol River.
(Source: flydime, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Some people have complained that the festival wastes food. That is true, but it’s not as bad as it seems. The town has a deal with a large tomato growing company. The company only brings tomatoes that are too soft or too small to be sold. Javier Mechó, who works for the company, says that all the tomatoes that would have been thrown away before are now sent to the festival.


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