Rituals of the World – Tomatina
Squish, squash: the Tomatina in Buñol
We are always told not to make a mess and, quite rightly, never to play with food! And, of course, that’s why it’s all the more fun to do it once a year anyway with great delight and enthusiasm. Each year on the last Wednesday in August in the Spanish town of Buñol, the “Tomatina” takes place, a joyful, full-scale tomato battle where nobody and nothing is spared and the streets of the town are ankle-deep in tomato juice.
Thousands of inhabitants – not to mention tens of thousands of tourists – throw tons of the overripe fruits at one another, which local farmers have previously dumped onto the town’s Plaza de Pueblo. They make an even bigger mess than little children playing with broth or finger paints. There is no solemn historical background to justify this spectacle and the traditional religious significance of the slippery mess is equally non-existent. The Tomatina is just great fun to be part of. There are, of course, a few local legends about its origins in the 1940s, but these are all rather profane, such as it supposedly beginning with a neighborhood argument, or the sloppy criticism of a vegetable seller directed at an incredibly bad street musician, who defended himself by throwing back the tomatoes aimed in his direction.
First squash, then throw
The tomato battle lasts exactly one hour, from 11 a.m. until 12 noon, and everyone taking part is happy to stick to the rule that the fruits must first be squashed in the hand before being thrown, in order to avoid injuries, which makes the whole affair sloppier than ever. After the battle, local people have water hoses at the ready to rinse off at least the worst of the juicy mess from the many visitors, who return the favor by helping to get the streets of Buñol halfway clean.
So even this dirty great big taboo-breaking festival has its own set of rules, which not only ensure a certain degree of safety and a minimum of hygiene, they give the Tomatina its form and turn the boisterous event into a delightful ritual.
“Rituals of the world – Rituals of time”
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