The mention of this popular Spanish festival probably conjures up tomato-laden images of Katrina Kaif and Hrithik Roshan in the movie Zingadi Na Milegi Dobara. Immortalised in the Indian minds by the duo, La Tomatina is a tomato throwing festival that takes place in the small Spanish town of Buñol on the last Wednesday of August each year.
The throwing, however, can only begin after a small ritual. A piece of ham is positioned atop an almost two-story high, greasy pole. Ideally, this must be reached before the festival can begin, but since this takes a long time and at times no one can get to it, a water cannon is fired anyway to signal the start of the tomato hurling.
What follows is a free-for-all food fight. There are about 130 tons of extra ripe tomatoes which are hauled into Plaza del Pueblo and these are hurled about excitedly by more than 20,000 people for an hour (Holi seems controlled in comparison!). Participants are strongly advised to wear protective eye gear because the acidic tomatoes can be harmful for the eyes. By the end of it, everyone is smeared with squished, blood-red tomatoes and the streets look like the magic pot boiled over and flooded the town with tomatoes.
What few people know is that insane as it all looks, there is, apparently, a method to the madness. Or rather, there are rules that are enlisted on the festival's official website. These include clarifications on what is allowed and what is not to ensure the safety of the people. For instance, it's not allowed to bring sharp objects (or bottles), that can hurt people; you must squash a tomato before throwing it at someone; you are not allowed to tear off people's clothes and when you hear the second cannon being fired, you must stop the throwing.
The water cannons are then use by firefighters to wash the tomatoes off the streets. Must be one heck of a cleaning job, but apparently the acid from the tomatoes scrubs the dirt of the roads!
Festival of Cascamorras
In September, not long after the madness of La Tomatina, comes another crazed-out festival that takes place about 500 kms away from Bunol in Spain. This one, called Cascamorras, happens in the two towns of Guadix and Baza. It's often called the 'Dirty Festival of Granada' (which is the province where the two towns are located). Here's why: thousands of people get covered in black grease and paint in this 500-year-old festival, which started with the discovery of a statue of Virgin Mary called 'Our Lady of Mercy' in the town of Baza. However, after the finding, the people of Guadix also claimed ownership and thus began the tussle which eventually led to this strange tradition of smearing people with black paint.
Apparently, after much fighting over the statue it was ruled that the statue would stay in the town of Baza, but the rights of celebrating this discovery would be given to Guadix. What lead to the ritual of greasing, however, was a condition put forth by the court-that if a commissioner from Guadix ever reached the Church of Mercy (where the statue was discovered) without getting stained by the locals, he would win the right to take the statue home. Unsurprisingly, this hasn't happened in the last five centuries.
As representatives from Guadix pour into Baza, the residents attempt to make them as dirty as possible, which, it seems, can best be achieved by using grease and paint. They get smeared in the process, but no one seems to mind!
Festa des Vermar or Grape Throwing Festival
If you thought that the list of whacky Spanish festivals was over, well, then think again. The last weekend in September sees another food-throwing festival in the wine growing region of Mallorca. Although this one is not as popular as the other two, the residents have loads of fun throwing and tramping the grapes while drinking copious amounts of wine.
It's a harvest-related festival that lasts two weeks (that's right). Although the exact time when this festival started is uncertain, what is known is that it began with a surplus of inferior quality grapes that the people wanted to clear before the winter in a bid to get a better crop for making wine. They, thus, simply plodded and stomped on the extra grapes, since they didn't know what else to do!
On the first day, a rocket is fired to signal the start of the festival, after which there is much grape throwing and treading. It all ends with one big party where everyone goes to the town center and lots of wine (and other grape drinks) are offered to the revelers.
Mark this on your calendar if you are a wine enthusiast and don't mind a bit of purple smearing.
Haro Wine Festival
How does the idea of being doused in wine sound to you? If it seems like your kind of fun, then plan a trip to Haro in Spain at the end of June.
On the 29th of June each year, the people of Haro, clothed in white, take to the streets to celebrate this whacky festival. Holding canisters, bottles, buckets, jugs, basically any container imaginable, full of wine, they first make their way to a mountain where a chapel is located. Here a mass is held, after which the fun begins.
Depending on what they've brought, everyone sprays or pours wine on each other till they are wet to the bone. All you can see is a mass of pink and purple clothed people chucking buckets full of wine around; who are merry in more ways than one.
The merriment, actually, starts the evening before. On the 28th night people get to the bars and restaurants and party till late night. They barely sleep before they wake up to climb the mountain armed with their containers.
Unlike other similar festivals in Spain, this one does not seem to have any specific rules. It's one big wine drinking party where everything is fair game.
I'm moving to Spain, who wants to join me?!