Spain’s Most Fascinating Festivals

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When you think of unusual festivals native to Spain, the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona probably comes to mind. The tradition began in the 14th century as a way to herd dangerous bulls from the countryside into the city’s bullring for bullfights. Today, the event is part of the San Fermin Festival, one of Spain’s most famous and well-attended celebrations. However, Spain offers a fascinating array of festivals that are more peculiar than the bull run. Here are five of Spain’s most fascinating festivals.

La Tomatina, Buñol

Pile of tomatoes
Credit: lmablankers/ Unsplash

If you’ve ever wanted to throw a juicy, over-ripe tomato at someone, head to Buñol — a small Spanish town in Valencia — in late August. La Tomatina is the world’s largest tomato-throwing festival where more than 20,000 people gather and throw roughly 220,462 pounds of over-ripe tomatoes at each other.

The battle begins with a cannon fire and the rules are simple. You must squish the tomatoes first and you can only throw tomatoes. Participants are also encouraged to wear protective eye gear and gloves. The battle lasts about two hours and ends with another cannon fire. Fire trucks then spray down the streets and combatants and many people wash off in the Buñol River. Unlike other Spanish festivals with historical or religious connections, La Tomatina reportedly began as a street fight among teenagers during a parade in 1945. Authorities banned the event for years, but the town revived it in the late 1970s.

Batalla del Vino, Haro

Aerial view of Haro Wine Festival in La Rioja region
Credit: lakisha beecham/ Shutterstock

If getting covered in sticky, red tomato pulp sounds unpleasant, you might prefer being doused in wine instead at the Batalla del Vino (Haro Wine Festival). In late June, thousands of participants flock to Haro, a small town in Rioja for a multi-day wine festival. The festival celebrates three Spanish saints, but the highlight is the wine fight. Most combatants wear red or white and starting at 7 a.m., the town’s mayor leads a procession up to a chapel on the Cliffs of Bilibio. After a short ceremony and mass, the fun begins and participants douse each other with wine from cups, bottles, jugs, buckets, and even water pistols.

First recorded in the sixth century, the Wine Battle of Haro began when Haro’s patron saint, San Felices de Bilibio, died. People began a pilgrimage up to his burial site on the Cliffs of Bilibio and later the town built a chapel. Pilgrims picnicked and celebrated on the terraces nearby, which eventually involved throwing wine in addition to consuming it. The wine tossing is believed to have originated from a 13th-century land dispute between Haro and a neighboring community.

Els Enfarinats, Ibi

Carton of eggs
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If you’re beginning to see a pattern here with Spaniards' love of hurling consumable goods at each other, you’d be right. Els Enfarinats is an annual flour, egg, and firecracker fight held in the small town of Ibi near Alicante. The festival takes place on December 28, which is Día de los Inocentes (Day of the Innocents), which is the Spanish equivalent of April Fool’s Day.

Rather than a random crowd of people throwing food around, a group of men known as Els Enfarinats (the Floured Ones), dress up as soldiers in mock military uniforms. They stage a fake coup d’état of the town, declare a ridiculous set of crazy laws, and fine citizens who “break” the rules. An opposing group called La Oposicio try to restore order. The two groups slug it out in the town square by pitching mostly rotten eggs and seemingly endless bags of flour at each other. When the flour and eggs run out and everyone is coated in white, they resort to firecrackers. At the end of the battle, all of the money collected as fines is donated to local charities. Els Enfarinats dates to Roman times, but it was slaves who took on the role of the Floured Ones. It was banned during Francisco Franco’s right-wing dictatorship but was reinstated a few years after his death in 1981.

Concurs de Castells, Tarragona

Human tower surrounded by a crowd
Credit: Manel Tineo/ CC BY 2.0

Instead of a food fight, Concurs de Castells is a competition between teams to build the tallest tower without using building materials. The festival is also known as the Tarragona Human Tower Competition. Teams or “colles” compete every two years to see which team can construct the tallest and most difficult towers without anyone falling. The highest human towers can reach 10 levels! (up to 10 people high). The strongest, stoutest men make up the foundation, while lighter men and women (“castellers”) climb onto their shoulders and create levels. Several people link arms to form the first few levels, but only about four people make up each subsequent level. The very top level is usually a six or seven-year-old child known as the enxaneta.

The Tarragona City Hall organizes the event, which takes place the first weekend of October and attracts over 20,000 spectators. Between 60 and 70 castell teams live in Catalonia and about 42 compete in the biennial competition. Human tower building was first documented as a cultural activity in 1801 and celebrated unity and patriotism for Catalonia. It became a competition in the 1980s and in 2010, UNESCO declared it an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Salto del Colacho, Castrillo de Murcia

Mattress sitting on the wood floor
Credit: baytunc/ iStock

If you think food fights and human towers are bizarre festivals, you’ll really be scratching your head at El Salto del Calacho (the Flight of the Calacho). This weeklong celebration ends with placing babies born within the last year on mattresses in the streets. The Colacho, a man dressed as the devil in a red and yellow costume, leaps across the baby-filled mattresses. Afterward, spectators and flower girls sprinkle rose petals on the babies. The purpose of the ritual is to absorb the babies’ sins and protect them from illness and misfortune.

During the event, multiple red and yellow-clad “devils” wreak havoc in the streets — terrorizing spectators by insulting them and whipping them with a horsetail attached to a stick. The spectators jeer at the Colacho to ward off their own misfortune and bad luck for the upcoming year. The baptismal event dates to the 1620s and is held on the Sunday after the Feast of Corpus Christi in late June. Initially, only local babies participated, but in recent years people have traveled from around the globe so their babies can participate. Despite having religious connotations, Catholic church authorities frown on the practice.

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