It’s San Juan this coming Thursday and that means it is going to be an interesting night!
You see whilst back in the U.K. a few people get up early and prance around some old rocks still wearing their bed sheets, over here the Summer Solstice is a tad more, how can I put it, dangerous!
Obviously if you insist on gyrating semi-naked, to the rising sun in Britain, you run a few risks. Mild sunburn, mosquito bites and a high chance of being hit over the head by a policeman. A clear and present danger no doubt, but slightly less serious than in Catalonia where the list includes deafness, blindness, partial cremation, drowning and death.
Let me expand. On the 24th of June we celebrate San Juan (Saint John´s Day) or Midsummer’s Day and apart from a significant minority spending it in hospital, it is fairly innocuous as saints days go. The action happens the night before in a bizarre mix of fire, water and medicinal herbs.
Scientifically speaking it is the Summer Equinox, the shortest night, followed by the longest day. From here on in, the days start to get shorter and the sun gets lower in the sky. So in attempt to give it a boost on its most important day the locals light bonfires the night before . . . everywhere!
Clearly there is no point building a whopping big bonfire and burning Granny’s furniture without chucking a few fireworks about and if you are going to be up all night you will need some alcohol and if you are . . . . . well you can see where this is going. Basically firemen and hospitals have their busiest night of the year.
But please bear in mind, this is no ordinary fire, oh no. The virgin flame comes from atop Mount Canigó high up on the French side of the Pyrenees and is transported all over Catalonia. Here in Barcelona it will arrive to much ceremony in Placa Jaume at 19.00 before being hastily collected by groups of volunteers and dispersed to waiting wood piles all around the city.
What you do with your fire is really up to you, but drinking excessively and jumping over it is really popular, especially down at the beach. From about 9pm, families, friends and bewildered tourists will begin to gather on the city’s sands with food, cava, wood and bags of fireworks and settle down to a night of carnage.
Being on the beach does have its advantages though. If you catch on fire it is a quick dash to the water and trust me when I say, all that open space does slightly reduce the chance of being pole-axed by a rocket. But most importantly you can absolve all your indiscretions. Tradition holds that getting wet during the night will cleanse you of your sins, so if you have just dropped your nephew in a bonfire the path to redemption is handily close.
Finally it is important to partake in some herbs. Legend has it that their medicinal powers are multiplied by a hundred fold on Midsummer’s Eve. All I can say is that there are an awful lot of people on the beach each year enjoying some ‘natural’ pain relief.
Before I sign off and go buy a fire-resistant suit, armbands and rolling paper, I just want to reassure my regular readers, who are by now puzzled that I haven’t mentioned a cake. Don’t fret fine folk; it is there. A large flat bread called Coca, covered in pine nuts and sugar with a hint of Anise flavouring.
It’s about the only thing left in Catalonia on the 24th June that isn’t burnt!