Aug. 28, 2013 at 10:06 AM ET
For the first time in almost 60 years, revelers had to pay to take part in Spain's annual tomato-throwing festival, as the country's economic crisis continues to grip local towns and villages.
Organizers of La Tomatina - which kicked off on Wednesday in the Spanish town of Bunol – charged participants 10 euros ($13) to enter the festival. Those hoping to hurl the fruit from the back of a truck that parades through town paid 750 euros ($1002) for the privilege.
The town's mayor insisted the move to charge festivalgoers was purely pragmatic. "For the last eight to 10 years we had a problem: there is no control over the Tomatina - you don't know how many people are going to show up. And at a mass event, that's a very reckless state of affairs," Joaquin Masmano told the Spanish media.
Other town hall officials said the pressure of balancing the books has forced them to make the decision. The festival costs over 100,000 euros to put on, but official figures reveal that local councils had debts of over 40 billion euros at the end of last year.
"The Tomatina costs us about 150,000 euros, so with the new entrance tickets we will more or less cover our costs," said Rafael Perez, the local councilor in charge of the festivities. "Everyone is doing badly at the moment," Perez added, but insisted the festival could still be financed without entry tickets if necessary.
Tourism company SpainTastic is selling 5,200 tickets to the event, while a further 9,800 were distributed between 20 subcontractors. Tour company Festivals All Around is also offering an 80 euro package deal to the festival, which includes entry to an after-party and a t-shirt.
The ticket charge has sparked fears that Spanish festivals could start to be privatized, with newspaper El Pais writing that this year's La Tomatina would be remembered as the "beginning of the privatization of popular fiestas in Spain."
La Tomatina has become a global tourist attraction, attracting tens of thousands of people from across the world each year. It started in 1945 after two neighbors allegedly had an argument and started hurling tomatoes at each other, and soon became an annual tradition. It became an official Spanish festival in 1959.
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