Sure, your mom told you not to play with your food, but at these historic food festivals, people come from all over to throw fruit cakes, beans, flour, and grapes.
Whether it’s commemorating the killing of a tyrant, wielding off evil spirits, or fundraising for a local community, food fight festivals have a long history that spans centuries. While many historic food fights were originally limited to their local communities, they now invite travelers from around the globe to join in.
WHERE: Buñol, Spain
Celebrated on the last Wednesday of August, La Tomatina is the biggest food fight festival in the world. The festival, which takes place in the Valencian town of Buñol, involves participants throwing tomatoes at each other just for fun. However, this was not always the case. Some say that it all started in 1945 when the people of Buñol showcased their political discontent by aiming tomatoes at local civic leaders. Another story suggests that a few teenagers attending a festival knocked over a pedestrian who began throwing tomatoes from a nearby vegetable vendor. Despite its contested history, this festival has only grown in popularity, especially after the festival was banned in the 1950s. The townsfolk protested it in the form of a tomato burial that eventually brought it back. Today, the festival has appeared in multiple films and inspired copycat events in other parts of the world, including Sutamarchan, Colombia, and Reno, Nevada. However, in recent years, increased reports of sexual harassment at the festival in Spain have put people on edge. Thankfully, authorities have reacted quickly and increased security measures.
La Battaglia delle Arance
WHERE: Ivrea, Italy
Starting on the Sunday leading up to Shrove Tuesday, La Battaglia delle Arance, or The Battle of the Oranges, is a three-day food fight festival. A reenactment of a medieval rebellion against a tyrant baron in Ivrea, the festival is highly organized and has strict rules. If you want to participate, you need to plan at least a month in advance and ask to be part of the nine groups that enact the common people throwing the oranges at the overlord’s people in carts, who wear clothing that looks like medieval armor.
According to legend, around 1200 A.D., the baron was overthrown thanks to the rebellion of a miller’s daughter, Violetta. Violetta, who had just gotten married, refused to follow the “jus primae noctis,” in which the baron raped any woman on her wedding night. Violetta went to the castle and used the opportunity to behead the baron, becoming the final push for the people to revolt, destroy the castle, and establish the institution of a free municipality.
Festa des Vermar
WHERE: Mallorca, Spain
Marking the end of the grape harvesting season, the annual grape festival or Festa des Vermar takes place in September every year, on the Mediterranean island of Mallorca, in the wine-growing village of Binissalem, Mallorca. The festival’s main draws include a grape-stomping competition, parades, a wine-tasting event, and a grape-throwing fight.
While it is difficult to pinpoint the origins of this tradition, it is believed that the festival dates back to Roman times as a way for winemakers to get rid of the grapes that had gone bad. The event starts with the firing of a rocket, signaling attendees to run and grab as many grapes as possible. The festival goes on until nightfall when a huge party takes place with traditional dance, folk songs, a bonfire, and fire dances. Initially only open to locals, it can now be enjoyed by visitors from across the world.
La Batalla de Vino
WHERE: Haro, Spain
In Haro, a town in Northern Spain, people take it a step further by skipping the grapes and throwing red wine at each other. The wine battle, La Batalla de Vino, is held every year on June 29th and celebrates the saints of San Juan, San Felices, and San Pedro. The day begins with a parade of horsemen leading people to the Hermitage of San Felices de Bilibio, where a flag is ceremonially placed before mass is conducted; and then begins the battle.
The battle takes place approximately six kilometers outside of Haro, in the Riscos de Bilibio hills. People come wearing white and carrying containers, bottles, jugs, pipes, and water guns to throw and spray over 500 liters of red wine at each other. This festival attracts crowds from across the world, but whatever you do, don’t show up wearing fancy clothes as even spectators won’t be spared.
World Custard Pie Championship
WHERE: Coxheath, England
Inspired by Charlie Chaplin, the Custard Pie Championship is an over 50-year tradition, which started in 1967 as a way to raise money for Coxheath village hall. The festival pits four teams against each other as they pummel their opponents with custard pies. Points are doled out depending on where the pie hits a member of the other team, with a full six points for a pie in the face.. If a player misses an opponent three times, points are deducted.
The recipe for the pies is a closely guarded secret, but they are said to contain flour and water, which can be super sticky. People from all over the world come, not just to watch but also to participate in the chance to be named champion.
WHERE: Vilanova i la Geltrú, Spain
For those with a sweet tooth, it does not get better than La Merengada. Celebrated on Fat Thursday (the last Thursday before Lent), in Vilanova i la Geltrú, it kicks off the six-day festival of Vilanova i la Geltrú. People first get to enjoy a traditional Lent meal of codfish with red pepper sauce and salad, and then they take their desserts to the streets. The event involves first throwing your meringue pies at each other, and once those run out, people move on to throwing candy. The festival includes brass band parades, traditional shawl dances, jugglers, and musicians and is full of children feasting on candy.
Clean Monday Flour War
WHERE: Galaxidi, Greece
Signifying the start of the Greek Orthodox Lent Period, Clean Monday is a battle where colored flour is the weapon of choice. Galaxidi, a small fishing village, is where this festival takes place, attracting people from far and wide. The festival, however, is the opposite of clean. With food color added to the flour before throwing it at people, it certainly gets messy! Residents and local business owners cover their properties in plastic sheets for protection and don protective glasses to join the celebrations. It is believed that the tradition started in 1801 as a symbol of resistance to the Ottoman Empire, which ruled Greece at the time and forbade carnivals. Today, the festival is just fun and games. With hundreds of colorful flour ready to be thrown, the festival is a great way to blow off steam.
WHERE: Ibi, Spain
Another festival that is marked by flying flour is Els Enfarinats, which translates loosely to The Breaded Ones or The Floured Ones. The festival, celebrated in Ibi, is actually a mock coup d’état. It is marked by approximately 20 men wearing military uniforms (the Els Enfarinats), who declare themselves to be in power before they start abusing their power. They enforce absurd rules and fine people money if they refuse to follow them. When the citizens have had enough, the opposition (La Oposicio) fights back, and the town erupts in a flour war. Bags of flour and cartons of eggs fly, hitting someone’s back or another’s face. Protective gear is essential at this festival. At 5 pm, a truce is reached, and the fighting ends. The crowd then celebrates with traditional ballroom dances and music, while the money collected is donated to charity.
It is believed that this festival commemorated a biblical event and is a nod to the Massacre of the Innocents. In the New Testament, King Herod ordered the killing of all infant boys, including his own son, in an attempt to eliminate the baby Jesus. This festival occurs on the same day as the Day of the Innocents, on December 28th.
WHERE: Across Japan
Japan‘s Bean-Throwing Festival, Setsubun, is celebrated on February 3rd to mark the beginning of spring. This day is considered an opportunity for a new start and presents the chance to get rid of evil spirits that bring sickness and ill-fortune. Tradition says that roasted soybeans need to be thrown out of the door as a symbol of keeping evil spirits away from the family. At times, a person is chosen to represent a demon or evil spirit, who then wears a scary mask and tries to enter the house. The beans are directed at this person, accompanied by people shouting, “Out with evil! In with fortune!”
Not only do people throw beans on this special day, but they also have to eat beans. As many as the age you are turning that year, to be precise. Another tradition includes eating a special sushi roll on the evening of Setsubun while making a wish. If you eat it in one go, while in complete silence and facing a lucky direction, your wish is sure to come true. Overall, an auspicious day; this food fight is more about fighting evil than fighting with people around you.
The Great Fruitcake Toss
WHERE: Manitou Springs, Colorado
Dislike for fruitcake seems to be universal, and so does the inevitable disposable of the uneaten cake post-holiday season. A group of people in Manitou Springs decided to come up with a more unique way of disposing of the cakes. Back in 1996, they assembled in a public park to throw the cakes as far as they could. Over the last two decades, the celebration has expanded and now includes the classic hand toss, fruitcake slingshot, and kids’ toss. There is also a bake-off, fruitcake costume competition, and more.
It is suggested that people attending the event bring one non-perishable food for donation, which goes to a local food bank or charity, along with the money collected at the event. Though technically not a food fight, it might be an entertaining experience anyway.