Las Tablas de San Andrés is a crazy tradition that is celebrated every year on 29th November in the town of Icod de los Vinos, in the north of Tenerife. Whilst it leads up to the celebration of when the bodegas open their doors for visitors to sample the new wines of the region, by comparison this is quite a staid event even though at the bodegas vast quantities of vino can be involved.
In essence, the “tablas” is a celebration of the customs of ordinary folk in years gone by which has been adapted to present day and involves sliding down the town streets on your bum and hoping you reach the end still in one piece.
The name San Andres might sounds religious but the celebration itself has nothing to do with the church or religion and is just an easy way to remember when it takes place.
To understand the origins of the “tablas” it helps if you know that the terrain of the municipality like many on the island ranges from high up in the mountains all the way down to sea level and Icod is typical. It is also worth bearing in mind that shortly after the Conquest, the first vines were planted on Tenerife in 1497 and wine production commenced.
Tenerife became the largest producer of quality wines in the Canary Islands and there was a huge demand in Europe. To meet this demand, wine makers would take wood from the high lands to the workshops by the sea where casks could be made. They also carried empty casks from the cellars for cleaning in the sea, as salt water apparently removes acids from the inside of the barrel. In the absence of adequate transport, the wood travelled down the steep streets either by rolling or fastened to a large plank. To avoid accidents branches were used to steer the precarious route and as brakes.
With this chaotic picture in mind, it is easy to see how many of those involved in accompanying the barrels found it amusing and exciting. And so the tradition was born….
Despite the passage of time and improvements in transport, the ritual is always repeated on the same date and just gets crazier with each year that passes. Everyone joins in. They start them early in the north and little kids make their first intrepid attempt as they slide carefully with mum and dad close to hand in case of an accident. The pre-teens move to the steeper streets getting braver as they get older until you are finally left watching the teenage boys as they career faster and faster down the twisting streets until they end up, hopefully in a pile of tyres and with no bones broken or macho pride bruised.
All the excitement makes you hungry so it is fortunate that the local bars have set up stalls and braziers selling roast chestnuts. For me a reminder that winter has arrived and Christmas is just around the corner. So if you are on the island, make sure you add the event to your diary as this unique tradition should not be missed.