We’re approaching Noche de San Juan, June 23rd – one of the shortest nights of the year, and one of the most eagerly anticipated. Officially, that’s because midnight heralds the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, precursor of Jesus Christ and therefore a very important saint (and the only one whose birthday is celebrated by the Church). Since the festival is mixed up with the midsummer solstice and associated pagan traditions, it’s an excuse for a beach bonfire party.
The best San Juan parties take place beside the sea, supposedly because fire and water are both symbols of purification. As daylight fades, crowds gather on the beaches and bonfires are lit. In recent years, our family have gone early (for a good parking place) to San Pedro, where the town hall provides large fires at intervals along the beach. In Andalucía, San Juan is known as witch night, and they burn effigies called ‘Juas’ on the fires. There are usually candles and barbecues, too, so the atmosphere after dark becomes magical.
At midnight, fireworks and Chinese lanterns fill the sky and it’s traditional to jump backwards three times over the fire – assuming it’s died down sufficiently – to dispel bad luck. (Be prepared for long waits at hospital A and E departments.) After the fire-jumping, you’re supposed to wash your feet in the sea for yet more purification and a year’s worth of good luck. If you want to keep your youth and beauty, you wash your face in the sea at midnight – and don’t look in a mirror afterwards or the spell will be broken!
This year, we’re planning to make our own party on the beach here, along with anyone else who turns up. (These events tend to be very friendly.) We won’t bother with a Jua and don’t care for the traditional grilled sardines, but there will be music and barbie’d sausages and spuds in the fire, and some midnight paddling. (And, for us oldies, a spot of face-washing is definitely in order!)