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.
Rituals for the Night of San Juan 2019: from the bonfires to the potatoes under the pillow
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 Saint 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 Saint 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.
The liturgy, which in some places is celebrated between the 24th and the 25th, is also related to striking superstitions that involve lighting candles, drinking water from a spring or collecting flowers.
Jump the bonfires
Going over the fire on the eve of San Juan is one of the most common ways to celebrate this festivity. In Alicante , where the party has been declared a Site of Intangible Cultural Interest by the Generalitat Valenciana, the tradition marks jumping seven times and in Galicia, where the event is considered of International Tourist Interest, nine. In other parts of Spain it would be enough to jump the waves back to the sea.
Burn the wishes
One of the most famous rituals of San Juan, especially in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, is to write wishes on a piece of paper and burn it on the beach with three jumps. In addition, in the Catalan Mediterranean the ‘nit del foc’ is celebrated by eating the classic Coca de San Juan, a sweet prepared with flour, eggs, milk and candied fruit. For its part, Cádiz celebrates the Fiesta of the ‘Juanillos’, rag dolls made by neighbors who burn to symbolize the beginning of summer.
Wash your face
In some places in Andalusia, especially on the coast of Malaga, it is a tradition to wash your face in the sea water at midnight to preserve health and beauty throughout the year. But, according to tradition, the spell would cease to be effective if after bathing the face the person looks in the mirror. In Galicia, the tradition is to do it with water, where on the previous night a bouquet of San Juan herbs has been submerged. There is no consensus on the plants you should have: from rosemary to lemon verbena, passing through mint or lavender.
At 12 o’clock in the evening, do not be surprised when you see thousands of Spaniards moving backwards into the water. Although not everyone believes any more that the soul is cleansed in this way, but it is a tradition, and in Spain they are very fond of traditions.
Sleep on potatoes
Sleeping with three potatoes under the pillow is a superstition typical of the Night of San Juan. In some parts of Spain, three potatoes are places under the pillow before going to sleep; one peeled, one half peeled and an unpeeled potato. In the morning, pulling out one potato without looking predicts what the year ahead will bring – the peeled potato signifies monetary problems, the half peeled one means you will go through many ups and downs, and the unpeeled potato predicts health and prosperity in store.
There is also a ritual to predict the future of the relationship between two people . It consists of placing a pair of needles in a deep bowl filled with water and letting them float freely. If the pins are separated, it is assumed that the relationship is not going well and there will be a distancing, while if they are joined, both people will stay together.
- Make a cross in the trees at midnight so that the promises are fulfilled and they are maintained throughout life
- Put seven candles on a surface covered with a red cloth to attract passion, courage and protection, among other virtues
- Bury a piece of candle that burned during the Night of San Juan to ask for the fertility of the land and the crops
- Light two red candles in the bedroom and burn with them a piece of paper that includes the name of a desired person
- Collect nine flowers of any kind and place them under the pillow to have dreams that reveal aspects about the future
- Drink water from a spring collected the morning after the Night of San Juan to scare away the evil eye