Who’s up for a good food fight, mud roll or wine bath in the name of cross-cultural enlightenment? We all need to get down and dirty some times, and these traditional mess fests are the perfect excuse. You get to immerse yourself (quite literally) in the local color and culture while tapping into your inner child at the same time. Here are a dirty dozen messiest festivals around the world that will generate a lot of fun – and laundry.
1. La Tomatina, Spain
The Valencian town of Buñol hosts the most famous food fight of all. On the last Wednesday in August, some 20,000 locals and tourists gather in the central square to toss 150,000 ruby ripe tomatoes at each other until the town is painted red. You’ll be covered head to toe in tomato puree and sloshing ankle-deep in the soupy mess. After half an hour or so, the local firetrucks turn on the hoses to wash the evidence away. There are a few copycat tomato festivals around the world (in Reno, Nevada and Sutamarchan, Colombia) but this saucy one is the original.
2. The Battle of the Oranges, Italy
This Italian fruit fight is held during the February Carnival season in the northern town of Ivrea. The Battaglia delle Arance is the highlight of a week-long festival that celebrates the overthrow of a medieval tyrant. It’s not the full on hurl-o-rama like the Tomatina due to the hard, acidic nature of the ammunition. The citrus tossing is supposed to be contained within organized teams, but it tends to spill over to spectators who are more than willing to revel in the juicy mess. Almost 600,000 lbs of oranges are deployed in this annual battle, the unsaleable leftovers from the winter crop.
3. Boryeong Mud Festival, South Korea
Here’s mud in your eye. This two-week celebration 120 miles from Seoul was started by a Korean cosmetics company to promote the beauty benefits of the local mineral mud. However, it has since evolved into a highly anticipated phenomenon a that’s more than just a festive facial. Over 2 million people attend this great communal mud bath to glop around in mucky pools and sloshy slides together. The fun takes place right beside the sea, so a refreshing cleanse is not far away.
4. Holi, India
What better way to celebrate the spirit of Krishna and springtime than by showering strangers with colorful fragrant fairy dust? Holi is an Indian festival that also takes place in Nepal, Malaysia and Trinidad & Tobago. Brightly hued powders, flowers and spices are sprinkled from person to person, sometimes in temples or out on the streets. This date of this rainbow festival varies according to the lunar calender, usually occurring in February or March.
5. Songkran, Thailand
The world’s greatest water fight takes place in Thailand around their mid-April New Year. Squirt guns, hoses, buckets, or elephant trunk, any way you can splash or douse a stranger in the street is fair game. Beware that some revelers up the ante by throwing flour and powders into the mix, creating a sticky paste. The celebration stems from the practice of cleansing statues of Buddha. The big guy is no doubt smiling down on the merriment.
6. Els Enfarinats, Spain
Each December 28 in the Spanish town of Ibi an epic battle is fought with an arsenal of eggs and kegs of flour. When the mock war is over the town looks like it’s been hit by a blizzard. It’s all for the Day of the Innocents, similar to April Fool’s, and at the end of the day a lot of money is raised for charity. Let’s hope some of the collections are used to clean up the mess.
7. Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling Festival, UK
This is not so much a cheesy food fight, but more like a rolling-down-the-grassy-knoll-to-chase-the-cheese race. Participants in Gloucester, England cast a wheel of dairy goodness down a steep hill and then come tumbling after, Jack ‘n Jill style. First high roller to the bottom gets the cheese, while everybody gets ground-in grass stains as a consolation prize. Due to safety issues, the May race is no longer “officially” conducted but it persists nonetheless. There’s no stopping some people.
8. Battalla del Vino (Battle of Wine), Spain
If you like a little wine with your cheese, head to Haro in northern Spain for the annual Battalla del Vino. While imbibing is certainly part of the pleasure, throwing and spraying the wine is the main order of the day. After a respectful Catholic mass to honor the patron saint, the bacchanalian mayhem begins. Parades of people all dressed in white pour a tsunami of red wine over each other (what a waste!) via wineskins, water guns or buckets until not a stitch of white fabric remains. Cheers.
9. Asar Pandhra, Nepal
The 15th day of the third month on the Nepali calendar marks the beginning of the rice planing season, and what better way to celebrate than by dancing in the mud. Rice flakes and curd are on the festive menu, but playing in the paddies is where the fun is at. You’ll see farmers dancing, rolling and splashing in the muddy paddy water, and don’t be surprised if they hurl some mud pies at you too. Everyone is fair game.
10. World Custard Pie Championship, UK
Somebody was bound to do it. This delicious Coxheath festival takes the pie in the face gag to the next level. Rather than a contest of culinary skill, this pie championship is all about tossing and face smearing, just for the joviality of getting messy. It began in 1967 by a city councilor with a penchant for Chaplin films. Great pride is taken in the secret recipe that gives the custard the perfect texture for throwing. Definitely one of the messiest festivals around the world.
11. La Merengada (Meringue War), Spain
Is there nothing the Spaniards won’t chuck in the name of a festival? Also known as the Batalla de Caramelos (Candy Fight), this sweet Catalonia celebration takes place around Fat Tuesday. After a traditional Lenten feast, the revelers head outside to burn off some calories by throwing meringue dessert bombs and other candy confections at passersby. Talk about tossing your cookies.
12. Great Fruitcake Toss, USA
Revenge of the fruitcake. The reviled yule-time (in)edible turns ballistic missile at this tongue-in-cheek festival in Manitou Springs, Colorado. The stale bricks that, let’s face it, nobody wants, are perfect fodder for flinging via slingshots, catapults, spud guns and the like. It’s not about hitting or hurting anyone, just about getting rid of that damn cake once and for all. Funny hats add to the festivities.