Spain celebrates its fiestas and traditions like no other country – and the Feast of San Juan, coinciding with the Summer Solstice or Midsummer Night, is no exception.
Each region has its own traditions, but it’s a celebration that always involves elements of fire and water, huge bonfires and fireworks, effigy-burning – and of course, dancing, eating, drinking and staying up into the early hours, apparently to cleanse your sins and store up the energy from the sun for the next 12 months.
It’s a tradition to jump over beach fires (preferably the embers) which, according to legend, will cleanse your body and soul – if required. Then jumping in the sea at midnight will also wash away any remaining evil spirits.
The San Juan festival has many names, but in Catalonia it is most often called the Nit del Foc – fire night – or the Nit de Sant Joan which means St John’s Night or St. John’s Eve. It is often also called La revetlla de Sant Joan in Catalan which in Spanish is Verbenas de San Juan.
San Juan has Christian and pagan roots, its traditions also originating from the birthday of John the Baptist – but it also closely coincides with the shortest night (the Summer Solstice or Midsummer Night), celebrated all over the world for thousands of years with flames to usher in a new season, symbolising purity and cleansing.
Monday 24 June, is a public holiday across Catalonia and Valencia – and Sant Joan’s eve, the night before, is best known as a celebration of fire: bonfires, fireworks, correfocs, and solemn torches lit from a flame that never goes out. This Sunday night the sky will be aflame with fireworks, the streets filled with live music and bonfires, the beaches with picnics and cava, as the eve of Sant Joan is celebrated: the nocturnal festival of fire and food.
The night of San Juan is also celebrated on the beaches as far wide as Andalusia in the south to A Coruña in northern Galicia, and also in other areas of Spain – particularly in Alicante where huge effigies are paraded through the city before being thrown into the flames, whilst the streets resonate with firecrackers.
In Menorca horses are paraded among the crowds whilst onlookers try to touch them, to ensure good luck for the year. In Lanjarón, south of Granada, midsummer is celebrated with a huge waterfight, whilst in Puerto de la Cruz they celebrate the Baño de las Cabras – where goats are reluctantly dunked into the waves.
Away from the big cities, in villages up in the Pyrenees, locals carry burning torches down from the mountains to ignite their bonfires, in a custom recently recognised by UNESCO as a world heritage event.
On Barcelona’s coastal strip, seaside businesses and chiringuito beach bars are getting ready for the biggest and noisiest outdoor celebration of the year.
More than 60,000 people are expected to come down to Barceloneta beach late in the evening – lining the waterfront and their stomachs – to let off fireworks and listen to amateur bands and drummers.
As well as the beachside gatherings, households and neighborhoods host parties that go on until dawn, revolving around their own bonfires.
Wherever you are celebrating San Juan – have fun, and try not to burn your feet …