ST. JOHN’S EVE
St. John’s eve, the most emblematic, short and magical night of the year, is approaching once again and will be celebrated on the night of 23th of June 2023. The festivity of St. John is one of the most important in the calendar and has its origins in the Celtic culture, although there are historians who also relate it to the Greeks and Aztecs.
During this special celebration, the summer solstice was celebrated and bonfires were lit to increase the strength of the sun and make it shine more brightly for the rest of the year.
The “festival of fire”, as some call it, has always been related to paganism and the purifying effect of fire and water. Night of incantations, omens, fortune and good harvests.
Many of the four elements of that pagan festival are still preserved, such as fire, air, earth and of course water, which together with the music, make this festival the “gateway to summer”.
As is usually the case with many festivals, and in order to evangelise, the church adopted this date to celebrate the birth of Saint John the Baptist, that was related to water and fire. This is because his father, Zechariah, lit a bonfire to announce the birth of his son, who, baptised by water, was one of the most important evangelists.
Besides the origin of the festivity, it is interesting to look at how it is celebrated on the beaches of the Valencian Community. To celebrate it following the tradition and to get good luck, we have to perform various rituals full of symbolism. The rituals that you cannot miss if you are going to celebrate St. John’s eve on the Valencian beaches are:
- Lighting a bonfire. This is quite an experience, although it may seem simple, to light a log is quite a challenge, if you have never done it before. Bear in mind that a lighter is not suitable for this purpose and that you must prevent the wind from blowing out the fire.
- When the bonfire is lit, you must burn the past and welcome the new. We will do it by burning papers that have belonged to people we want to forget and let go, or past moments that we have written down and want to forget forever.
- Jumping a bonfire. This is one of the most desired rituals along with the waves, but be very careful not to burn yourself or fall in! Getting close to the fire helps us to commune with nature and feel part of it for a few moments. According to the Valencian tradition, you must jump over the fire 7 or 9 times in order to purify yourself and make the ritual effective.
- Jumping the waves. If you go to the beaches of Valencia, you will see that when it gets close to midnight, everyone gets into the water. The tradition says that people need to purify themselves with water, in the same way as they do with fire. In St. John’s eve, the sea is synonymous with health and fertility for women. According to many Valencians, in order for the ritual to be effective, 9 waves must be jumped just as midnight is about to strike and with one’s back to the sea.
Besides Valencian region, other coastal areas in Spain have its own traditions. For instance, in Galicia have “queimadas”, and in Cadiz the “Juanillos” that are kind of dolls (similar to what the Fallas were in their beginnings) conveying satirical messages and made by local associations.
Finally, don’t forget to bring some firewood and something to light it and, if possible, to have dinner at the beach. There will be as many people as maybe you will never see on a beach in any other city in the world.