Around the world, celebrators pummel each other with over-ripe tomatoes, engage in flash mob pillow fights, hurl multicoloured flour and turn chainsaws into noise-makers.

Street fairs can be unruly events. But when the whole purpose of the gathering is to create as much muck as possible, they move into a league of their own.

Food fights are surprisingly common festival activities the world over, and more often than not, the weapon of choice is the humble tomato. Each year, on the last Wednesday in August, as many as 30,000 people descend on the small village of Buñol in Valencia to celebrate the Tomatina Festival. They have been coming here since 1944 to pummel each other with over-ripe tomatoes grown especially for the event. Sure, the scene is messy but at least it is relatively pain free (and low fat).

Not so in Piedmont, where partygoers are armed with welt-causing oranges. Legend has it the catalyst for the event was a local woman in the 12th Century who, on her wedding day, refused to let the local duke sleep with her. She chopped off his head and (presumably) hurled it at him. Ouch.

For organizers faced with the unbridled enthusiasm of gathering hordes, even the gentlest festival can quickly turn messy. Take International Pillow Fight Day for example, a flash mob event now celebrated in more than one hundred cities all over the world, from Accra to Zürich. The pillow fights are so ferocious the pillows often burst on impact, sending plumes of stuffing sky high. (Participants are encouraged to use hypoallergenic pillows.)

While a street full of stuffing, tomatoes or oranges might not be the most beautiful sight to behold, some messy festivals result in a painted wonderland. In Galaxidi, a small fishing village in Greece, revellers hurl multicoloured flour to celebrate one of the holiest (and most ironically named) days of the year - Clean Monday. The colouring in the flour is so strong it stains the brickwork (homes and businesses tend to wrap their property in plastic).

Only one messy festival does not requires an Olympic-sized cleanup crew - the Tintamarre festival held in the sleepy bayside town of Caraquet, in Canada. The population swells from 4,100 to almost ten times that amount during August when the Acadian French community celebrate its national day. Participants arrive with foghorns on trailers, bladeless chainsaws, and noise-makers of every description, with the sole intent of creating an unruly din.

And how did this odd, cacophonous gathering come about? In 1963, two centuries after British forces attempted to oust the Acadian French from the region, the local priest in Caraquet asked his parishioners to make some noise to let the world know that Acadians were alive and well. Not surprisingly, the celebration grew. Like their fellow tomato throwers and paint hurlers around the world, the people of Caraquet just wanted a chance to make their mark on the world.


The article 'The world's messiest festivals' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.