San Juan (Sant Joan in Catalan) plays a very important role within the festive calendar of Barcelona. In English the exact name for the festival is the festival of John the Baptist. The Catalans have various names for the festival including La revetlla de Sant Joan , Verbenas de Sant Joan which indicates it´s an open air festival or Nit de Sant Joan which simply translated is the night of Saint John. This great festival is celebrated in Barcelona every year on the 23rd June.
The festival Saint John comemerates the start of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year with the most sun light. Its origins are deeply rooted in pagan tradition where fire and water are the 2 most significant elements associated with Sant Joan.
The whole of Catalonia will be full of bonfires and fireworks. One of the traditions states that if you burn something on Sant Joan you will purify your soul, expurgate your sins and cast aside your bad luck. Other traditions include jumping over a bonfire with your loved one to ensure everlasting love or writing 3 wishes on a piece of paper and throwing the paper in the fire. I personally don’t recommend jumping over any bonfire even for loves sake.
Each area of Barcelona has its own fireworks display but the biggest display is by the waterfront, next to the Colon Statue at the bottom of Las Ramblas. Also be aware of the fire crackers and especially the kids throwing them! They really don’t seem to worry about throwing them in any direction so keep your distance. They can be dangerous and getting burnt will definitely spoil your party.
As the festival is in honor of John the Baptist, water features quite strongly during the celebration. So a swim is essential in order to eradicate your sins and also cure your aches and pains! If that is true I´ll be swimming for a couple of hours on the 23rd. Of course it is quite normal to see thousands of people swimming, some fully clothed, around midnight and now I understand the tradition as there is some kind of sense for his unorthodox behaviour and not just as I first thought due to the great quantities of alcohol consumed by the Barcelona beaches.
Other traditions include eating a bread called Coca filled with different ingredients and Herbs such as Verbena which is suppose to have aphrodisiac qualities so lets get eating. Sant Joan is a hellacious festival full of fire, heat, colours, light and water.Everyone is in good spirits and the atmosphere in the city is electric. As the Catalans say, “Fred per Nadal, Calor per San Juan, salut per tot l´any, “which translation is “Cold for Christmas, warm for Saint John and good health all year round.”