Spain’s quirky celebrations and festivals like La Tomatina (Buñol), Las Fallas (Valencia), or Los Encierros – Run with the Bulls – (Pamplona and other cities) have become quite popular among tourists in the last decades. But those are not the only unique festivals and celebrations that can be found in Spain.
Around June 21st is the summer solstice, also known as St. John’s Eve (Midsummer) in English speaking countries or Midsommer in the Nordic region. Many countries celebrate this day by going out to the park and BBQing during the day, and as the sun starts going down, the bonfires are lit. Because who wouldn’t want to celebrate the (official) start of summer!? Obviously, Spain parties it up too, with a twist!
This night is also very present in the Hispanic culture, and as it couldn’t be any other way, it is celebrated in the purest Spanish style.
This christian celebration would, in its pagan origins, honour the begin of summer by lighting bonfires. This would be done in order to strengthen the sun, which from that day on would start becoming weaker and weaker until winter solstice. In addition to that, fire was always believed to have purifying effects on whomever watched it.
In Spain, this way of honouring the day has prevailed like in most other celebrating countries, with a few extra tweaks depending on each region. And let’s not forget, that isn’t celebrated on the 21st but June 23rd or 24th so keep that in mind if you’ll want to celebrate this day in Spain.
This night, as it was mentioned above, is a time to celebrate. Get together with your family and friends and welcome the summer (or celebrate St. John) and if you happen to be in Galicia during this time, you’ll find yourself not only surrounded by lively and cheerful locals drinking and having fun, but you’ll also get to experience (or even take part yourself if you are brave enough) the main tradition: jumping over the bonfire!
Now you may be asking yourself, why on earth do they jump the bonfire!? Well in Galicia, la noche de San Juan (St. John’s Eve) is closely connected to rituals of purification and fertility. On that night is believed that our world and the other side connect. To scare the bad spirits away (meigas and brujas) this ritual is done. All bonfires will be lit when midnight comes, not sooner. And jumping over (up to nine times) is believed to bring good luck to the person. In cities like A Coruña every household lights a fire on this night, which makes of it a breath-taking sight and has become a festival of national tourist interest.
And don’t forget to try the traditional delicacies typical of this day: “cachelos” (baked potatoes) with grilled sardines, downed with some “Queimada“, a potion (punch) of Orujo (a Galician distilled liquor) with fruits and lots of sugar prepared in a cauldron (or a hollow pumpkin) while chanting a spell. It’ll definitely transport you back to another time, if not the ambiance, the amount of alcohol! (50+% alc)
Definitely a night you’ll never forget!
Have you ever celebrated St. John’s Eve in Galicia? Did you enjoy it? If not, would you? Can’t wait to read your experiences down in the comments section.