La Tomatina is a festival that is held in theValencian town of Buñol, a town located 30 km inland from the Mediterranean Sea in which participants throw tomatoes and get involved in this tomato fight purely for fun. It is held on the last Wednesday of August, during the week of festivities of Buñol.
In 1945, during a parade of gigantes y cabezudos, young men who wanted to participate in the event staged a brawl in town’s main square, the Plaza del Pueblo. Since there was a vegetable stand nearby, they picked up tomatoes and used them as weapons. The police had to intervene to break up the fight, and forced those responsible to pay the damages incurred.
The following year the young people repeated the fight on the same Wednesday of August, only this time they brought their own tomatoes from home. They were again dispersed by the police. After repeating this in subsequent years, the party was established. In 1950, the town allowed the tomato hurl to take place, however the next year it was again stopped. A lot of young people were imprisoned but the Buñolresidents forced the authorities to let them go. The festival gained popularity with more and participants getting involved every year. After subsequent years it was banned again with threats of serious penalties. In the year 1957, some young people planned to celebrate “the tomato’s funeral”, with singers, musicians, and comedies. The main attraction however, was the coffin with a big tomato inside being carried around by youth and a band playing the funeral marches. Considering this popularity of the festival and the alarming demand, 1957 saw the festival becoming official with certain rules and restrictions. These rules have gone through a lot of modifications over the years.
Another important landmark in the history of this festival is the year 1975. From this year onwards, “Los Clavarios de San Luis Bertrán” (San Luis Bertrán is the patron of the town of Buñol ) organised the whole festival and brought in tomatoes which was being brought by the local people before this. Soon after this, in 1980, the town hall took the responsibility of organizing and making the festival big.
At around 10 AM, festivities begin with the first event of the Tomatina. It is the “palo jabón”, similar to the greasy pole. The goal is to climb a greased pole with a ham on top. As this happens, the crowd work into a frenzy of singing and dancing while being showered in water from hoses. Once someone is able to drop the ham off the pole, the start signal for the tomato fight is given by firing the water shot in the air and trucks make their entry. The signal for the onset is at about 11 when a loud shot rings out, and the chaos begins. Several trucks throw tomatoes in abundance in the Plaza del Pueblo. The tomatoes come from Extremadura, where they are less expensive and are grown specifically for the holidays, being of inferior taste. For the participants the use of goggles and gloves are recommended. The tomatoes must be crushed before being thrown so as to reduce the risk of injury. The estimated no. of tomatoes used are around 150,000 i.e. over 90,000 pounds. After exactly one hour, the fight ends with the firing of the second shot, announcing the end. The whole town square is colored red and rivers of tomato juice flow freely. Fire Trucks hose down the streets and participants use hoses that locals provide to remove the tomato paste from their bodies. Some participants go to the pool of “los peñones” to wash. After the cleaning, the village cobblestone streets are pristine due to the acidity of the tomato disinfecting and thoroughly cleaning the surfaces.
Rules of the festival
The city council follows a short list of instructions for the safety of the participants and the festival:
1. The tomatoes have to be squashed before throwing to avoid injuries.
2. No other projectiles except tomatoes are allowed.
3. Participants have to give way to the truck and lorries.
4. The festival doesn’t allow ripping off T-shirts.
5. After the second shot indicative of ending the tomato hurl, no tomatoes should be thrown.
In other countries
La Tomatina Buñol has inspired other similar celebrations in other parts of the world:
§ Since 2004 the Colombian town of Sutamarchán holds a similar event on the 15th of June when a surplus of tomatoes is harvested.
§ In Costa Rica the town of San José de Trojas (Valverde Vega Canton) celebrates a tomatine during the local Tomato Fair in February.
§ In the town of Dongguan in southern Guangdong province in China, a tomato fight is held on the 19th of October, during which they use up to 15 tons of tomatoes.
§ The City of Reno, Nevada in the United States also has an annual hour long tomato fight that started in 2009. The event seems to take place on the last Sunday of August, and is organized by the American Cancer Society. Organizers also named the festival La Tomatina, and give full credit for the idea to the Spanish festival.
§ On February 12, 2011, at the field of Esparraguera, town of Quillón, VIIIth Region, Chile, the first version of the Great Tomato War was held under the auspices of the local municipality and a private firm. Like the Spanish Tomatina, it was a playful battle involving young people.
§ The video game company Namco included a scenario that mimics the Tomatina event in the 6th installment of the saga Tekken fighting game.
§ Click4specs- an Australian Company have a bi-annual tomato fight where employees are allowed to throw tomatoes at their employers for a one hour period on the first Tuesday of March and October.
§ The festival was recreated for the song Ik Junoon (Paint it red) from the 2011 Hindi film Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara.
§ In the Indian state of Karnataka, the Karnataka Government banned the hosting of such a Tomatina event in Bangalore and Mysore, after private organizers tried to organize one. Chief Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda is quoted as saying: “In the name of ‘La Tomatina’ festival, permission should not be granted to waste tomatoes”. A similar event planned in Delhi was cancelled after it received negative response from the public.
§ Milwaukee’s East Side Association holds an annual Tomato Romp during September in coordination with a Bloody Mary drink contest. Held since at least 2009 it is limited to 250 people in a caged-in area.