Night of Saint John in Spain

The Night of Saint John

There are many ways to discover a country´s culture; one of them is through its festivities. Today we are going to inform you about one of the most magical nights in Spain: the Night of Saint John.

History of the Night of Saint John

The festival is on the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June.

The night of Saint John originates from Ancient Greece where they had multiple festivals to honor the god Apollo (the god of music), when they would celebrate the summer solstice, called “the door of men”. Later on, the Romans also adopted this tradition.  

Festivals that were celebrated during the classical period are similar to what we have today. However, the nature of this special night, is today mainly connected to Christianity, specifically the Biblical character John the Baptist, who baptized Jesus of Nazareth in the Jordan River.


Symbolic elements

Many symbolic elements are associated to the Night of Saint John: fire, water, and plants.

Fire

Fire is the protagonist of the night for being the element most similar to the sun and for possessing the power to cleanse the sins of man. It is represented through small and large bonfires. In the past they would heat up potatoes and yams, in order to ensure a good harvest season. Nowadays, old object are burned to represent bad memories and remove them from memory.
A ritual to gain protection for the entire year is to jump over the flames. For example, in Galicia it is necessary to jump nine times, while it is seven in Alicante and Valencia.

Water

Water: a symbolic element of the night of Saint John
Water: a symbolic element of the Night of Saint John

The element most closely related to John the Baptist is water. It also represents purification. A common activity is to bathe in the sea and/or rivers during the night, in order to receive good health during the entire year.

Plants

Plants in many cultures have an important role. Thanks to their various healing characteristics, they can help to heal wounds or cure illnesses. Related to this tradition, in Galicia, many citizens gather herbs of various kinds with therapeutic properties. Then, they leave them to soak in water with which to bathe the next morning.


Celebrations across Spain

In Spain, each province and its towns celebrate the Night of Saint John in different ways. This makes the festival unique in different parts of Spain.

Night of Saint John in Zafra (Extremadura)

Here they celebrate the event in a very unique manner. During the day they recreate a medieval village where the most famous activity is the world´s best game of living chess.

Night of Saint John in Mieres (Asturias)

Here the members of the town perform the “carqueñá”, an ancient tradition  of bringing firewood and junk in a cart to the main square and burning the objects in a bonfire.

Night of Saint John in Cantabria

This region has its own legends about this special night. It is connected to the Caballucos del Diablo, three winged horses who aim to destroy the festival by flying over and terrorizing the inhabitants. The solution is to find a four-leaf clover and use it to avoid evil beings throughout the year.

Night of Saint John in Teudela (Valencia)

In this town you will find another legend, ‘La Font de la Jana’, a fountain that maintains its original structure, over which a fairy called La Joanaina appears on the night of June 23rd  . This fairy is said to grant wishes to those who walk with her into the town of Teudela. The only condition is that you are not allowed to look at her!

Night of Saint John in Alicante

The bonfires in Alicante burn more than 200 papier-mâché monuments as satire, for this it has received the name “la cremà”.


We at Centro MundoLengua have only given you a few examples of the celebrations that take place during the Night of San John in Spain. There are many more, such as in the coastal city of Cadiz

Want to celebrate the night of Saint John like a local? Join us for one of our summer study abroad programs in Cadiz. In this beautiful city, we offer study abroad programs for high school students, university students, and Spanish teachers

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