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San Juan in Spain

St. John's Bonfires in Spain

The Bonfires of San Juan is one of the biggest festivals in Spain. Cities like Tenerife, Barcelona and Alicante start the summer off bright with this celebration.

The Bonfires of San Juan in Spain

The night of San Juan is full of bonfires, fireworks, music, dancing, sardines and bread. It's the welcome to summer, and it is celebrated on the shortest night of the year

In many cities and towns the bonfires of San Juan is the first fiesta of the summer. And although all of the celebrations that take place have some things in common, each one is special in its own way.

The celebration is particularly important in cities and towns close to the sea. Lalín, in Galicia, celebrates O Corpiño, a festival in which people touch a picture of a saint to rid themselves of bad omens (botar fora o meigallo). At Alicante's Fogueres de Sant Joan, hundreds of bonfires burn all over the city all night long. In Palamós and Roses (both in Girona), people celebrate with fireworks and bonfires on the beach. And in the Canary Islands, people build their bonfires out of old unused things and after burning it all down they take a swim in the sea.

Bonfires, fire and water are definitely the main attraction of the night. Men, women and children, all dedicate days to the preparation of the bonfires. In some places, people who jump over a bonfire three times on the night of San Juan are said to be cleansed and purified, and their problems burned away. Another tradition, is for women to prepare perfumed water with the essence of seven aromatic plants and then to wash their faces with the water, purifying themselves for the new season. But no matter where it is celebrated the bonfires of San Juan is a festival to see.

The night of San Juan in Tenerife

The eve of San Juan (June 23) is a magical night in any coastal city on Tenerife. The light from the island’s many bonfires illuminates the sky on the shortest night of the year to celebrate the summer solstice.

The bonfires’ flames, built up with old cast-offs and unused items, symbolize purification and they are usually lit on the beach to allow the magic of the fire to be complemented by the power of the sea.

This celebration is especially important in Puerto de la Cruz where concerts and pyromusical shows begin in the late afternoon around the Castillo San Felipe and Playa Jardin. Thousands of people get together and celebrate with candles and wishes; and in order for their wishes to come true, they have to write them on a piece of paper and cast them into the fire.

According to tradition, as we’ve mentioned above, the brave who are willing to jump over a bonfire three times, will be granted good luck and health for the rest of the year. For the less daring, a traditional purifying splash in the waters of the Atlantic at midnight provides swimmers with the same results.

There is also the odd tradition in Tenerife of placing three potatoes (peeled, un-peeled and half-peeled) underneath the bed before going to sleep at night. The next morning, islanders pull out one of the potatoes without looking which foreshadows what the rest of the year has in store for them; if they get the peeled potato it means money problems, half-peeled means many ups and downs, and un-peeled means good health and prosperity.

As dawn breaks and the bonfires’ ashes are still floating through the air, the traditional Baño de Cabras (the bathing of goats) takes place. Local goat keepers from Valle de la Orotavas bring their flock of goats to the fishing port, Puerto de la Cruz, and fulfill the ancestral aboriginal tradition of purifying the animals, much to the amazement of nearby tourists!

The Night of San Juan in Barcelona

Although is it slightly less well-known, the night of San Juan in Barcelona is worth seeing. It joins individuals with the collective, magic with the mundane. To celebrate, many families get together at home or around a bonfire in the Barceloneta to remember old times and to think about all the good times to come. But wherever it is celebrated, there is always a "Coca de Sant Joan," a cake made of flour, eggs, lemon and candied fruit, present at the celebration.

There is also a beautiful and interesting ritual that takes place in the Plaza de Sant Jaume. The people celebrating the ritual carry a flaming torch, the Flama del Canigó, down from the top of Canigou, a mountainous massif in the Pyrenees (about 160 miles from Barcelona). At midnight, people from all walks of life distribute the flame to celebrate the start of the night of the fire.

This moving celebration unites the different celebrations and fiestas happening in different neighborhoods where you can see live music, fireworks, parades full of devils and beasts (remember that San Juan, in many places, is the equivalent of Halloween)... and all of the festivities are punctuated, of course, by delicious Catalan specialties and excellent cava.

After a night full of fire, tradition, celebration and great food... what could be better than to welcome in the new day on the beach? This celebration has gotten even more popular in recent years and every year there are more and more people who take a dip in the sea as the dawn breaks, hoping for the good luck promised in the saying, "Bany de Sant Joan, salut per tot l'any" (Swimming on San Juan, is a greeting to the year ahead).

So if travelers want to purify their bodies and minds, along with all of the learning they'll do on their trip, there is nothing like coming to Barcelona for the night of San Juan.