Are you wondering what to do for the weekend? Are you a party animal and just want to let it all out after work? Are you looking for a chance to experience the local traditions of Barcelona? Check out this blog post on the upcoming festival of Sant Joan. Learn more about the background, celebrations and food of this public holiday.
WHAT IS SANT JOAN?
Beginning in the evening of 23rd June and continuing throughout the following day, Sant Joan is one of the most important festivals in Catalonia, celebrating the arrival of summer, marked by summer solstice, the longest day (and shortest night) of the year. Across Spain people celebrate and feast though the night and Barcelona is no different. By contrast, expect to see lots of bonfires, fireworks and revellers; it’s not a riot, it’s Sant Joan! Use this article to learn more about the festival’s origin and take our tips on how to enjoy the night, so that you can throw yourself in and really immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the festival an experience a real Catalan tradition.
THE ORIGIN OF SANT JOAN
Although the festival is named after Saint John the Baptist, an important figure in Christianity, the festival was of pagan origin. In agriculture-based, ancient societies, the sun was the most important source of energy and often worshipped as a divine entity. They believed that, being the longest day of the year, the sun was at its most powerful, and therefore, the modern traditions on the day often evolved from rituals of sun worshiping. Various cultures, such as the Celts and Romans, added their own flavour into the festival and has diversified over the centuries.
THE THREE SYMBOLS
The three symbols of the festival are fire, water and earth. They are also three of the four basic elements of ancient alchemy which is considered to be the ancestor of modern science. The sun and the moon were also important for alchemists since they studied astronomy and believed that some phenomena, such as eclipses, contain mysterious power. During the inquisition, the church banned alchemy, yet these traditions were preserved in the magical night of Sant Joan.
Fire represents purity and strength, and most importantly, the sun. The Celtics lit fires to send energy back to the sun obtain the blessings of the gods. The Greeks offered sacrifices because they believed that Helios and Apollo would enter their spirit through rays of sunlight. Nowadays, people light bonfires on the beach and jump over them. It is said that if a couple holds hands and jump over the fire seven times, they will be happy forever. Others burn effigies and dolls to signify the purging of evil.
Water is an element of cleansing and replenishment. People would bathe themselves in the rivers and the sea to wash away bad luck. Some believed bathing in the sea for 9 waves during summer solstice will increase women’s fertility. It was also believed that water possesses magical healing power in the night and that bathing at midnight will give you good health and immunity from disease for the next year. Water is also the symbol of Saint John the Baptist, so these traditions may be of Christian origins.
Flowers and herbs represent the earth. During the festival, people gather herbs like rosemary, rue, lemon verbena and St. John’s wort. The herbs are soaked in a bowl of water for the night and people wash their faces with it the next morning. Others make flower wreaths and hang them on doorways to drive away evil spirits. It is also popular for people to pick fresh spices and cook with them.
WHAT TO DO IN BARCELONA
In Barcelona, everyone lines up in front of temporary fireworks stores on the streets. Most buildings in Barcelona have balconies, so if you have friends and a large balcony why not host a party and watch the fireworks together? Alternatively, you could also go to a beachside bar to enjoy some cava and sangria while listening to live bands. Remember to reserve a table in advance if you want an outdoor seat with a good view of the beach. Arrive early, around 9pm, before sunset to avoid the majority of the crowd and eat well before the real partying! As it gets increasingly heated at the beach, if you are with children you may want to leave by midnight.
If the beachside is not your scene, there are always Barcelona’s many parks and squares, where you might see some interesting shows. Before it gets dark, keep your eyes peeled for squares that are putting up signs. For example, a huge tent is being prepared in Marina Port Vell, outside of OneCoWork - you may find good music and interesting events there!
Or why not buy some fireworks yourself and head over to the plaza with friends? Just remember to stay safe with fireworks and be careful of other people’s also. To get away from the crowds but still head out doors, take a picnic up to the Montjuïc castle with friends and family and soak in the views.
WHAT TO EAT IN BARCELONA
The “must try” food of the festival is the “coca” (plural - coque). They are bread cakes that come in all sorts of flavour and looks. They are characterized by the aniseed flavour by the common use of anise in all coque. Most coque look like pizza, with a bread like base and different toppings. Some “closed” coque look like a pie with fillings inside of a pastry. Some are even like Tacos which you can choose the toppings with an empty coca. The Coca de Sant Joan is the signature coca for the festival. Typically, the toppings are candied fruits and pine nuts. Again, all sorts of coque can be found in the city. Have a look around, especially for bakeries. It is also tradition that friends and families share mugs of hot Spanish chocolate with children. If you walk around the squares, you may even find food stalls selling traditional Spanish food.
MORE TIPS & SUGGESTIONS
Plan your transportation in advance. Though the metro is open all through the night, it will be very busy. Taxis will also be hard to come by and in high demand!
Be vigilant of pickpockets; a crowded festival, with thousands of people drinking and partying is a prime target for thefts. Let your hair down, but not your guard.
Sunday 24th June is a public holiday, so most restaurants and shops are closed – even more than a normal Sunday. Make sure you purchase anything you need in advance.
The Sant Joan festival is more than a night of partying. It is also a symbol of traditions and cultures combining in harmony. When the sparks of the fireworks (and the hangovers) have faded, the glow of the flames is kept alive by the stories and myths, told year after year, growing stronger like plants rooted in the earth. And like the tide of the sea, the people will always return!
This festival is surely one of the most atmospheric in the world. Here at OneCoWork, we hope you celebrate the holiday well!
To learn more about the festival, check out the links below