Tonight is one of the most important nights of the year in Catalonia. It marks the summer solstice and is also the festival of Sant Joan. This holiday is officially tomorrow (June 24th), but tonight is what Catalans call ‘la revetlla’ – the evening before an important festival where the concept of ‘evening’ is stretched until the early hours of the following morning.
So, what’s this party about? Fireworks, bonfires, coca (a typical pastry which can be either sweet or savory – you have to try it!) and lots and lots of cava. Tonight families, friends, and neighbors stay up late to enjoy music, watch the fireworks and join one of the 50 street parties around town. Finding the street parties can get tricky (best way to do that is to wander around neighborhoods looking for the bonfires), and if you prefer to keep it simple just head to the beach and watch the sunset before heading to one of Barceloneta’s street parties.
This is probably the most common plan among locals and tourists.
Want to understand the details of the celebration? Here are a few basics:
The Cannigó flame
Part of the Sant Joan tradition since 1955. Every year on the 22nd a fire is lit at the mountaintop of the Canigou mountain. People keep a vigil during the night and take torches lit on that fire in a spectacular torch relay to light bonfires somewhere else. (Accordingly to Wikipedia, around 30.000 flames are lit in all Catalonia for Sant Joan’s eve). The flame will arrive in Barcelona at 5.30pm at C/ d’Arístides Maillol and will follow an official route to arrive at Plaça Sant Jaume at 7 pm, where it will be welcomed by the city’s authorities and a party of Gegants (city’s Giants) before heading to all neighborhoods and light their bonfires.
There are different types of coca (and they are all delicious). Some are made with fruit, pine kernels or marzipan, or filled with custard. There is also the coca de llardons, which is washed down with a good cava or muscatel wine, and are essential for a proper Catalan celebration of Sant Joan! Cocas have been typical for Sant Joan’s eve since the 19th century and accordingly to the tradition, they were baked at home and people had to eat it outdoors because eating it under a roof would bring bad luck. “Tradition says that Sant Joan coca tarts must have a canonical form, twice as long as it is wide, and with rounded corners. The ratio between a coca tart’s width and the length is the same as the proportions of day and night on Sant Joan.”
Barcelona has a long tradition of setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires on many of its public celebrations (remember Correfocs?). On Sant Joan, the idea is that fire purifies, protects and regenerates.
If you are going to the beach, make sure to bring a picnic basket, blankets and layers (for when the sun goes down). Try to get there in time to see the sunset. Close to midnight there will be firecrackers and fireworks going off all around, so if you have small children with you best to avoid staying late.