If you’re in Barcelona on June 23rd, consider yourself the luckiest tourist in the world! Get ready for bonfires, fireworks and typical Catalan traditions: it’s the Sant Joan’s night!
Sant Joan’s Night is the shortest night of the year, and it’s surrounded by festivals, legends, and beliefs. It is the unofficial “New Year’s Eve” of Catalunya – the biggest celebration of the year!
Old tales say that the fire would “feed” the sun, as it would get stronger and more alive each day. During this day, plenty of fire-related rituals are celebrated throughout Catalunya. The most famous is called “llama de canigó” (Canigó Flame), which consists of a torch that travels through many different villages lighting up bonfires on its way until it reaches Barcelona at around 7pm.
During Sant Joan’s evening, many people go to the beach to watch the sunset, see the fireworks and enjoy the live music played by bohemians and street musicians. In the past, locals would enter the sea and take the first swim of the year, which was believed to bring good luck.
But it wouldn’t be Catalan if it didn’t have food involved! Sant Joan is the day to eat the typical “coca catalana”, a sweet bread with different toppings. The coca is normally eaten after dinner, accompanied by a glass of cava. You’ll find them easily in every pastry shop a few days before Sant Joan.
Say it in Catalan: Nit de Sant Joan
Origins of Sant Joan
St. John’s Eve has pagan origins and is one of the solstice festivals, like Christmas. The tradition long predates the introduction of Christianity. It is from a cult of the sun, celebrating the lengthening of the day and the summer solstice.
The Nit de Sant Joan has long been celebrated in Barcelona, with bonfires at the heart of the festivities, as it is a commonly held belief that the flames frighten off and dispel the evil spirits that are abroad on this night. In fact, laws were introduced in the 18th century to curb the spread of fireworks and bonfires in the city. Despite the bans and restrictions of the 20th century, though, the festival has continued to this day. (Info: Ayuntamiento de Barcelona)
There is no single big party for Sant Joan in Barcelona. The parties and bonfires happen all around town, in different neighborhoods and at the same time – you only need to start walking to bump into a celebration!