San Juan Bonfires
June 23rd marks the Eve of St John (San Juan or Sant Joan in Catalan-speaking areas) where all across the country Spain's beaches are illuminated in the light of bonfires and locals celebrate with food, drink and fireworks until the early morning.
The celebrations have their roots in ancient pagan traditions marking the middle of summer solstice (midsummer) and the fires were said to ward off evil spirits. Today the eve is celebrated globally, including in Portugal, and many Spanish regions and towns take part, particularly Catalonia and Valencia, and above all the city of Alicante for whom San Juan is the most important event of the year.
San Juan has been celebrated for many years in Alicante and people would originally head for the countryside on 23rd June for feasts with their families and to set off fireworks. In 1928 the celebration was formalised and people began celebrating with bonfires on the beaches finding spare wood to burn, be it old furniture or nearby kindling. Nowadays the celebrations in the city take place from 19th to 24th June and are likened to the Fallas festival in Valencia, with processions involving large cardboard figures and large tent spaces created for dancing. One of the most important figures of the festival is the 'Bellea del Foc' (Beauty of Fire) - a local girl chosen as carnival queen who, along with her ladies in waiting, helps bring in the celebrations. Party-goers will then typically dine on figs and 'Coca de Sant Joan', a typical pastry decorated with colourful cherries and dried fruits to create a festive cake which perfectly reflects the bright and joyful atmosphere. Fireworks displays take place in one of the main squares each evening and visitors are advised to bring earplugs as the rockets and firecrackers (called mascletàs) can be particularly noisy!
The festival is also celebrated in the regions of Galicia and Cantabria where celebrations include customs which are more closely tied to the original pagan traditions such as the collection and washing of traditional medicinal plants.
You can't fail to have a good time, or at the very least marvel at the beautifully illuminated beaches on a warm Spanish evening.
Photo By Bruno Zaragoza - originally posted to Flickr as fuegos artificiales hogueras 4, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8850119