Spain’s bizarre Cipotegato festival returns after pandemic hiatus



Thousands of spectators armed with tomatoes gathered in the Spanish town of Tarazona on Saturday to mark the long-awaited return of the Cipotegato festival.

Even among the hundreds of unique local festivals in Spain, this one stands out for its special traditions.

It centers on a resident dressed as a masked clown called the “Cipotegato”.

From noon, the anonymous clown starts running through the city, while the crowd throws thousands of tomatoes in his direction. Inevitably, it also becomes a tomato fight between spectators.

Escorted by former clowns and friends, if Cipotegato goes to the main square, they climb to the top of a statue. The crowd then shouts “Cipote, cipote!” as the clown ties a scarf to the monument, officially marking the start of the city’s five days of festivities.

This year, revelers threw around 10,000 kilograms (20,000 pounds) of tomatoes at the Cipotegato, which was later revealed to be 32-year-old Andrea Joaquina Dominguez – the third woman to take on the role.

“Thank you to everyone who helped me get here,” she said after the crazy 20-minute run through her town. “They received all the blows and the tomatoes that didn’t touch me. The doctors asked me if I was in pain and I said no! It’s incredible.”

Local officials said this year’s festival attracted more visitors than usual.

“This Cipotegato has been more intense than other years,” Tarazona Mayor José Luis Arrechea told local daily El Periodico de Aragon. “The city really needed it because there was a lot of buildup since the pandemic,” referring to COVID-19.

While the true origins of the festival are murky, the Cipotegato figure dates back at least 300 years.

An urban legend says it comes from when the city released a prisoner from jail every year. The prisoner could remain free if he was able to survive the journey to the outskirts of the city while the locals stoned him.

A more accepted hypothesis is that the Cipotegato character comes from someone who was documented chasing small children and hitting them with a stick attached to a puffy cat’s blatter on the eve of the Christian holiday of Corpus Christi.

Documentation shows that the Catholic Church banned this tradition in the 18th century, and the figure did not return until the 1900s.

Whatever its origins, this year the festival has emerged as a deeply cathartic experience after two summers marked by fear of viral contagion.

“Today, we put all our problems aside. On September 1, we will go over everything. But for now, I hope people have fun,” the town’s mayor said.

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