For years movies and television shows featuring high school or grade school students have featured outrageous food fights usually culminating in a messy trip to the principal’s office but these food fights are child’s play when compared to La Tomatina. La Tomatina is the finale a weeklong festival complete with fireworks, entertainment, libations and other fun activities in honor of the patron saint of the town of Bunol, Spain, St. Louis.

Just how big is La Tomatina? It is so big that it is officially recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest annual food fight. The statistics used in the official record refer to the festival of 2002 where there were 38,000 participants and 120 tonnes of tomatoes involved.

The question of how this festival evolved into the largest annual food fight is also somewhat of a mystery. Although the festival and particularly the tomato fight is an annual tradition started in 1944, even the local are not clear on how the tradition started. Some common theories on the original reason for the food fight include juvenile pranks, an unfortunate mishap with a local merchant’s cart and even a drunken mistake by a local. It seems as though the lack of understanding of the origins of the festival are not enough to keep people from participating as the event draws more and more tourists each year and the event is televised around the world.

One interesting aspect to this food fight is that there appear to be some rules which govern the chaos. First of all the tomatoes are brought into Plaza del Pueblo for the purpose of the festivities. Next a ham is placed upon a greased pole at approximately 11:10 am. The first tomato is not tossed until a participant is able to retrieve this ham. Once it is retrieved a cannon fires to signal the start of the food fight. Chaos ensues for nearly two hours until the cannon fires again to signal the end of the food fight. No more tomatoes should be thrown after this time. Participants are urged to wear protective goggles and old clothing as the tomato fight can be dangerous as well as messy.

For many tourists the food fight which take place on the last night of the festival is the highlight of the event. The tremendous food fight is scheduled for Aug. 30, 2006. However, planning for future events is not as simple as it seems. Although La Tomatina usually takes place on a Wed. towards the end of August the exact date is difficult to determine. In general La Tomatina has occurred on either the last Wed. of the month or the fourth Wed. of the month but there has not been a great deal of consistency in the scheduling. If you are planning an upcoming vacation and wish to participate in the giant food fight, it is wise to wait until the planning for the current festival is underway to ensure you will not miss La Tomatina.

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