Festivals are celebrations of a place: its crazy cultural quirks, extraordinary geographical marvels and astonishing historical events. Or, sometimes, they’re just an excuse to get into a giant food fight. These international festivals celebrate their cities’ and countries’ art, culture, traditions and industries.
Spain has no shortage of insane festivals, but rather than the running of the bulls through the streets of Pamplona, the streets of Buñol run red with the guts of 150 tons of tomatoes during La Tomatina. The hour-long festival is always the last Wednesday of August and is considered the world’s largest food fight, with 20,000 people hurling tomatoes at each other.
There’s some ambiguity about how it all began, but the festival website says it started in 1945 when the antics of a few local youths caused an uproar during a parade. The fracas spread to the crowd, which started lobbing tomatoes and other produce from an upended vegetable stall. The next year, the local kids brought tomatoes from home and picked a “fight” among themselves in the square.
Although the festival has been canceled and resurrected several times over the decades, Spain’s tourism department declared it a “Fiesta of International Tourist Interest” in 2002. After 10 years of increasing popularity, organizers started selling official entry tickets in 2013 to cap attendance at 20,000. Because Buñol is fairly small — it has only 10,000 residents — most festivalgoers stay in nearby Valencia, about 25 miles east of Buñol on the Balearic Sea coast.
Participants need to follow a few rules: Tomatoes must be squashed before being thrown to avoid injuring anyone, and no other type of projectile is acceptable. When all is said and done, fire engines hose down the streets and buildings.
Bloemencorso Bollenstreek (Flower Parade of the Bollenstreek)
Noordwijk to Haarlem, Netherlands
At one point in the mid-1600s, tulips were in such demand in the Netherlands that the bulbs were used as currency. Today, the country is still known for flowers in general and tulips in particular. Every year, several flower parades and celebrations take place around the country, but Bloemencorso Bollenstreek is the largest and most impressive. Bollenstreek is the well-known bulb-growing region in Holland.
The two-day parade will start Saturday, April 22, 2017, in the town of Noordwijk in South Holland and wind along its 26-mile route, wrapping up in Haarlam in North Holland the following day. But the celebration will begin a few days earlier. Hundreds of volunteers will spend days hand-placing thousands of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths on about 20 floats and 40 specialty cars. Festivities will kick off with the ceremonial “first piercing” on April 19, then visitors will be able to watch volunteers decorate the parade floats in the Deleeuw Flowerbulbs hall in Sassenheim through Friday, April 21. Guests can watch at their own pace, or guided tours are available, but groups should make reservations either way.
The illuminated Flower Parade will travel through Noordwijkerhout on Friday night, and the parade departs from Noordwijk on Saturday morning. For the first time, covered grandstand seating on the parade route in Sassenheim will be available and will include restrooms, concessions and an announcer. The parade will once again pass Keukenhof, an 80-acre garden with more than 7 million tulip, daffodil and hyacinth flowers that will be open March 23 to May 21, 2017.