The World’s Messiest Festivals

Most of the time, when travelers are thinking about going to a foreign country in order to witness a particular festival celebration first-hand, they’re thinking in terms of what festival will help them understand the culture better, or which ones have the most free-flowing alcohol. But if you’re one of those travelers who just wants to get dirty – and I mean really dirty – in order to help the locals celebrate something, then these messy festivals should be right up your alley.

Orange Throwing in Italy

Oranges fly through the air in Ivrea

Oranges fly through the air in Ivrea

The town of Ivrea in the Piedmont region of northern Italy may be a quiet town most of the year, but during its annual February carnival things get messy. That’s because the most famous part of Ivrea’s annual carnival is the battle of the oranges. The orange fight of the Carnevale d’Ivrea is said to have originated in the 12th century, when a local woman not only refused to let the local duke sleep with her on her wedding night (a custom at the time), she chopped off his head and thus set off a revolution. Today, the oranges which locals chuck at one another are said to represent the duke’s head. The orange-throwing isn’t a free-for-all, although it might look chaotic – the people of Ivrea are split into 9 teams who attack one another. Some ride high-up in carriages above the crowd (these people are said to represent the guards of the famous beheaded duke), while others throw oranges from below. No matter where they come from, the oranges – thrown with speed – can hurt. If you want to avoid getting hit, wearing a red cap lets the orange throwers know you’re just watching. If you want to get in on the action, you’ll need to join one of the teams (which is easy to do – just volunteer!).

Pumpkin Chucking in Deleware

Because the family that hurls pumpkins together, stays together

The family that hurls pumpkins together, stays together

What symbolizes Autumn more than a pumpkin throwing contest, I ask you? Nothing, I say, and I think the folks behind the World Championship Punkin Chunkin festival would agree. What began in 1986 as a sort of a bet between four friends about who could throw a pumpkin furthest has blossomed into a popular annual event that takes place the week after Halloween each year (great way to get rid of those unwanted holiday decorations). In recent years, as many as 20,000 people have made the pilgrimage to Sussex County in Delaware to either watch pumpkins flying through the air or enter their own apparatus in a bid to chuck their pumpkin the furthest. Now, this isn’t a messy event if you’re just a spectator or even one of the pumpkin chuckers – but if you’re on the clean-up crew? I’d call that a messy festival of the highest order.

Colored Powder Throwing in India

Pretty colors make some people loopy

The pretty colors make some people loopy

As far as most of these messy festivals go, the results can’t exactly be called "pretty." Not so with Holi, the Hindu so-called Festival of Colors that takes place each year in India around the end of February or beginning of March. The second day of Holi is marked by participants (which is everyone) throwing colored powders at one another – so while your clothing may never be the same, the spectacle itself is quite lovely. The powder-throwing, aside from being delightfully fun, has medicinal origins – the powders are made from medicinal herbs which are intended to ward off the fevers and other illnesses which generally come up as the weather changes at that time of year. Along with the powders, water is also thrown, leaving some people with a tie-dye effect on their bodies – at least for a little while. In addition to India, Holi is also celebrated in Nepal, Guyana, Trinidad, and West Bengal, where it’s called Dolyatra. Some reports say that the colored powders and pastes actually contain toxic chemicals these days, so before you decide to take part, be sure to do your research.

Tomato Throwing in Spain

This is also how Heinz makes its ketchup

This is also how Heinz makes its ketchup

Food fights are just about the messiest festivals around, and the town of Buñol in Spain holds a doozy every year. Each August on the fourth Wednesday of the month, locals and tourists alike crowd into the town and spend a couple hours hurling tomatoes at one another. The festival is called La Tomatina, and while the tomato-throwing portion is only one part of the whole week-long festival, it’s the only part that anyone outside Spain really knows anything about. There are tours you can join which are organized solely around the tomato food fight, and some even provide the necessary gear you’ll need. Not sure what "gear" I might be referring to? Why I’m talking about goggles, of course. Imagine having to explain to an emergency room doctor in Spain why you’ve got a beefsteak tomato lodged in your eye socket. Oh, and if you’re going to go, either wear something that’s already pink or something you don’t mind ending up pink afterwards.

Water Fight in Thailand

Water flies for the Thai New Year

Water flies for the Thai New Year

While you might accidentally pour what’s in your beer glass over your neighbor at the bar when someone shouts "Happy New Year," people in Thailand celebrate their new year by dousing one another with water on purpose. Songkran, the Thai New Year, happens each year in mid-April and is marked by massive water fights. Locals and visitors alike are out in force with buckets, bowls, garden hoses, water guns, elephants (yes, elephants), and any other water-delivery method they’ve got at their disposal – and anyone is fair game. This no-holds-barred water fight originally was just a small amount of water poured over someone’s hands as a sign of respect, but it’s clearly gone beyond that now (although the water is still seen as a sign of respect). In fact, if you’re in Thailand in mid-April you’ll be glad that an all-out water fight is now the traditional way to celebrate the new year, because it’s so hot that being drenched is a welcome relief.

Tomato Fight in Colombia

Colombia's tomato fight looks messier than Spain's

Colombia’s tomato fight looks messier than Spain’s

Having a tomato fight be your country’s messy festival isn’t something the Spaniards have all to themselves. In fact, the town of Sutamarchan in Colombia also has a tomato-throwing festival on its calendar each year. Colombia’s version is called the "Tomatina Colombiana," and it takes place in June. While the Spanish Tomatina festival is decidedly more famous and undoubtedly more of a tourist attraction, the Colombian tomato festival is absolutely no less messy. In fact, judging from some of the pictures, it actually looks a little messier than its Spanish counterpart, in that the tomato mush participants are standing in isn’t just red – it’s brown. (Not sure I want to know why.) There’s not as much information about this tomato fight available out there, so if you’re looking to be among the only tourists at a messy festival, this might be the one to pick.

Water Splashing in China

More water fighting fun, this time in China

More water fighting fun, this time in China

Like Thailand’s water festival, China‘s also takes place in mid-April to mark the start of the New Year. The water splashing happens in the Yunnan province, and is only part of the whole 3-5 day festival celebrated by the Dai people. As in Thailand, dousing people with water in this Chinese festival has special significance – water is the symbol of holiness and purity, and it’s meant to wash away all the bad things from the previous year so everyone can start the new year fresh. So in this tradition, the more water you get splashed with, the better the outlook for your new year! Budget travelers should love this, as it could save you from needing a place to take a shower for at least a few days. Other things you’ll see if you stick around for more than just the water fight include dragon boat races, fireworks, and traditional dances.

Lotus Throwing in Thailand

Sweepers follow the Buddha's boat collecting lotus flowers

Sweepers follow Buddha’s boat collecting lotus flowers

Okay, I know, throwing lotus flowers doesn’t exactly sound messy. And in comparison to some of the other festivals on this list, it isn’t. But this tradition, which marks the end of the Rub Bua Festival in Samut Prakan, Thailand, could be considered messy if you’re one of the people who’s on clean-up duty. The lotus-throwing portion of the festival is held in October each year, when an image of the Buddha is floated down the river through town. People on either side of the river throw lotus flowers onto the boat carrying the Buddha, and as you can imagine many of them miss the boat (so to speak). There are several smaller boats trailing the Buddha boat, and the people on those smaller crafts are designated to sweep up the flowers that didn’t quite make it and deposit them onto the main boat. Buddhists come from all over Thailand to take part in this festival, which means there are a lot of flying lotus flowers, so watch where you’re going.


About the Author
BootsnAll staff writer Jessica Spiegel, who writes the Italy Travel Guide among other things, didn’t like getting messy as a child, and she isn’t that fond of it now, either. She’d prefer to watch these messy festivals from a distance, thankyouverymuch.

original photo locations, from top to bottom: Giò-S.p.o.t.s. on Flickr, the Punkin Chunkin photo gallery, meg and rahul on Flickr, viajar24h on Flickr, Pichichi on Flickr, The Daily Telegraph, china.org, and thai-blogs.com

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Older comments on The World’s Messiest Festivals

gaychel
29 December 2009

no mudfest on daecheon beach in boryeong, south korea? definitely dirtier than lotus flowers and water fights!

leafsfan85
07 January 2010

i was thinking exactly the same thing! what gives!?!