In La Rioja, celebrations often include spraying participants with wine. These are not manifestations of some atavistic warlike trait, but rather acts steeped in tradition.
In La Rioja two of the most important events of this kind are the Haro wine battle, celebrated on June 29 and the clarete battle, held on July 25 (Saint James’s Day – Santiago, the patron saint of Spain) or on the following Sunday.
The Haro wine battle probably began in the late 19th century during a pilgrimage to a spot on a hill overlooking the Ebro in honor of St. Felices de Bilibio, a hermit in the 6th century who lived in these hills. During the meal, the pilgrims, no doubt under the effects of copious amounts of alcohol, began to throw wine at one another.
Today, thousands of locals and tourists gather in the main square of Haro early in the morning where they walk or ride up to the site of the battle. After celebrating Mass, the battle begins. 20,000 liters of wine are sprayed by the participants from squirt guns, wineskins, buckets and industrial sprayers until the participants, who arrived dressed in white, are drenched in red wine.
The clarete battle in San Asensio began much later, in 1977 during a meal organized by one of the peñas (social clubs) that liven up festivals in most Spanish towns and cities. Here, between 25,000 and 30,000 liters of clarete are sprayed around by the 1,300 residents of the village, joined by over 4,000 partygoers from other parts of Spain and abroad.
During other local festivals, large groups of young people gather in the main square waiting for the rocket signalling the beginning of the festival to be shot off. After the rocket, the revellers throw flour, wine and eggs at one another.
The food fight par excellence, however, has to be the tomatina, held in Buñol, a village in the province of Valencia, where tons of ripe tomatoes are unloaded by dump trucks and thrown by the villagers and outsiders at one another.
I see this as a healthy way to let off steam and to get one in the mood of the local festival, a week of dancing, eating and drinking that takes place in every village, town and city in Spain.
Given the current state of our economy, a little escapism like this has to be a good thing!
Photo: the clarete battle of San Asensio. Photo credit: La Rioja