22 June 2011

San Juan - time to set the night on fire!

The feast-day of St John the Baptist coincides with the Summer Solstice (23-24 June) and like many other festivals in Catholic countries, St John's Eve ( la Noche de San Juan), the shortest night of the year, combines elements of both the Christian and pagan traditions - all involving fire.

Burning the mayor 
St John's Eve is celebrated all round the world, not only in Catholic countries like Brazil and Ireland, but also in Scandinavia and the Shetland Islands.  All over Spain bonfires are built on the beaches or in town squares, and are attended by huge numbers of people all set to party the night away.  According to tradition, if you jump over a bonfire three times on San Juan's night, you will be cleansed and purified, and your problems burned away.  On the beaches, this is followed by running into the sea to wash away evil spirits.  While doing this, you make three wishes for prosperity during the next twelve months. 

Jumping the bonfire - Elf & Safety nowhere in sight
In Spain San Juan marks the official start of summer and is traditionally the first day for families to visit the beach (nicely coinciding with the start of the school holidays).  In and around Alcalá it also marks the end of the snail-eating season, since snails harvested after this date will not have fed on juicy fresh grass.

Fiesta on the beach at Estepona
The bonfires are also used to burn muñecos or effigies - think Guy Fawkes. This quema de juanillos is usually done around midnight. Originally the effigies were supposed to represent Judas Iscariot, but these days the festival provides an opportunity to incinerate politicians, local businessmen, TV personalities and anything else you would like to see the back of.  There will be no shortage of options in Alcalá this year, that´s for sure ...

Let's burn the World Bank - great idea!

1 comment:

Tumbit.com said...

For all our good-natured swipes at the "lack of health & Saftey in Spain", a surprisingly small number of accidents seem to happen (Fatalaties on the roads aside, of course)