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Are you a person who generally keeps your wine in its glass and doesn’t like the thought of getting it everywhere all over everything? Then the Haro Wine Festival in Haro, Spain, is probably not for you. Every year on June 29, people gather in white shirts and red scarves, towing with them gallons of wine in every container imaginable. It’s actually the celebration of their patron saint, San Pedro, so it begins with a procession and a mass before turning into a massive free-for-all with everyone throwing wine all over each other. You might wear a white shirt there, but you won’t be wearing one on the way back.
Holi, the Hindu festival of colors and festival of love, is a great example of something that started in one geographical region and grew across the world, following the people who brought it with them from its origins in India and Nepal. It starts the evening before with a celebratory bonfire, and then the next day is quite literally the most colorful day of the year. People throw dry colors at each other, shoot colored water from water guns or throw water balloons full of dyed water. Anyone is fair game, whether you know them or not. While it is technically a celebration of the end of winter and the rebirth that comes with spring, so much more has grown from it.
Another festival that has sparked many imitations of itself world wide is the Spanish festival of La Tomatina, which happens every August in Bunol, Spain. Unlike Holi or the Haro Wine Festival, however, La Tomatina has no religious roots. In essence, it’s a giant tomato fight, which lasts for an hour and leaves all the participants — plus the town square— covered in tomato paste. The whole town’s in it together, though, so fire trucks come through at the end to hose everyone off. Lately, it’s gotten quite official; the city council has a list of rules that participants must follow, and because of worldwide interest, you must now register in advance and pay an entry fee.
In some cases, getting paint all over your body doesn’t actually have to be a mess. The World Bodypainting Festival is one of those occasions. Over the course of three days, artists use the bodies of hundreds of models as their canvases, covering them from head to toe with paint in all shades and styles. It happens every summer in Austria — the poor models couldn’t stand around with only paint for clothes in the winter — and it’s also a great place to go if you’re interested in learning a little more about the art form, or even trying it yourself.
You may not think of New Years as a particularly orderly time of year, but in Thailand, they take it to a whole new level. The festival of Songkran, which celebrates the Buddhist New Year from April 13-15, includes a unique water festival in addition to a number of other, calmer rituals. Cities close off their main streets, and people young and old fill them and splash each other with buckets, water guns and whatever else they can think of. Like with Holi, there’s no limits as to who might get you, so keep your eyes peeled and definitely wear your waterproof mascara.
In 2001, two neighborhoods in Berlin, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, were united into one administrative district. They kept their separate identities, though, and this is never more evident than during the Wasserschlact, which translates as “water battle” and is also sometimes called the “vegetable battle.” This joking fight consists of residents of both neighborhoods taking up water containers and old vegetables against each other and throwing them across neighborhood lines until no one, absolutely no one, is clean anymore.
Glastonbury Festival is actually a music festival, and adheres to no specific tradition of getting dirty. However, given its UK location and the time of year when it takes place, there’s a very high chance attendees will be covered in mud by the end. A quick look through the chronicles of Glastonbury history reveals years where constant rain created mud plains, or where streams ended up forming amidst campsites. If you’re going yourself, follow our advice: don’t bring anything that you wouldn’t mind getting soaking wet and dirty, and if you must bring anything electronic, please keep it in a plastic bag.
The Boryeong Mud Festival is the pinnacle of messy festivals, as it was originally a marketing ploy for cosmetics based on mud from Boryeong, a town in South Korea. The mud has a very high mineral content and is quite beneficial for the skin, but that isn’t the only thing that draws millions of visitors a year now. It takes place on the Daecheon beach, where they put up mud pools, mud slides, mud ski slopes, and even a mud prison. If you like the silky skin it gives you, you can also buy some to take home with you.
Galaxidi is a tiny, usually peaceful Greek coastal town, until Clean Monday, which is the Greek Orthodox beginning of Lent. In this case, the name is actually quite misleading, as the tradition in Galaxidi goes that people of all stripes head into the center, where they will find flour specifically prepared to throw at each other. In order to give the event more color, they often add dyes to the flour or paint their faces with charcoal. Although they do divide the area into a war zone and a neutral zone, innocent bystanders beware – flour tends to have a larger range than you might expect.
Spain, it seems, has a special affinity for messy festivals. Feria de Cascamorras is another one, and you’ll find it in Baza, a historic little town in Andalucía. Rather than covering each other with wine or tomato innards, though, Feria de Cascamorras involves people covering themselves with black oil and paint and then trying to prevent the Cascamorras, a man from the neighboring town, from stealing a certain statue of the Virgin Mary. As soon as he gets into town, he’ll find himself at the mercy of the revelers, who do their best to get their hands and bodies on him so he doesn’t get the statue and instead departs with a fresh coating of oil.