Bonfires of St. John

Sergio Pajares Granada, Spain


June 23, 2020

Arcadia students visiting Spain in summer always enjoy their experience not only because they spend their holidays learning Spanish but also because they get immersed in our traditions. Saint John’s Day may be one of the most popular festivals held in Spain, especially among young people.

Summer is normally defined in one word: beach. At least, this is how Spaniards understand this season since our passion for beaches, sunny days, and the sea is shared by all the regions and even in other Mediterranean countries.

Saint John’s Day is celebrated on June 24th. Although this day may be seen as a Christian festivity, its origins are quite different. In fact, the most important part of this festival takes places on June 23rd, which is known as the festivals of Midsummer’s Eve.

In St. John’s Eve, bonfires are lit in different cities and towns, especially in coastal areas. This tradition originated long time ago when bonfires were used to protect people against evil spirits, which were believed to roam freely when the sun was turning southward again. In this sense, this festival is directly related to summer solstice and the superstitions associated with it.

In Spain, this day is officially celebrated in some regions only. The most important events take place in the Region of Valencia, Catalonia, Galicia, and Andalusia.

Fire is an essential part of this day. People get together and light large bonfires from any kind of wood, such as old furniture, and share food and drinks while having fun. Young people also take part in a special event in which they have to demonstrate their bravery by jumping over the fires!

In the Mediterranean coast, bonfires are accompanied by fireworks, barbecues, and traditional dances and pastries such as the coca de San Juan. In northern Spain, we can easily identify pagan rituals based on three elements: plants as an essential part of nature, fire as a protection element against evil spirits, and the purifying effects of water. Moreover, this festivity is also associated with witches and magic, which makes this day a perfect combination of mystery and fun!

Some useful words that you can use in this festival:

  • Noche de San Juan (St. John’s Eve)
  • Hoguera (bonfire)
  • Fuegos artificiales (fireworks)
  • Pincho moruno or pinchito (pork kebab)
  • Solsticio (solstice)
  • Saltar (jump)
  • Aquelarre (witches’ sabbath)
  • Coca de San Juan (St. John’s sponge cake)