The Sant Joan festival goes by many names, but in Catalonia and Barcelona, it is most often called the Nit de Sant Joan which translates to St. John’s Eve.
Even though the celebration goes by many names, they all refer to the same event, the festival feast of Saint John the Baptist, that ushers in the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Not only is it the longest day, but Sant Joan also marks the beginning of the summer holiday and, as you may guess, it is a highly-anticipated day for students and children.
Fire plays an integral role in this holiday’s festivities. The origin comes from La Flama de Canigó, a popular and meaningful ritual in which, on the morning of June 22 to 23, a flame, that is kept during the whole year in the Castellet de Perpignan, is brought from the top of the Canigó mountain in the Catalan Pyrenees to surrounding towns. Hundreds of volunteers and fire teams distribute the fire and the flames serve as a symbol of brotherhood between the Catalan-speaking territories.
Due to the uniting nature of the holiday, Sant Joan is one of Barcelona’s most social celebrations.
Traditionally, the locals hang out at Chiringuitos, or beach huts in English, that overlook the ocean, or they go to their grandma’s house, friend’s houses, or they just wander around to different revetlla celebrations, which are street parties located in most of Barcelona’s neighborhoods. There are both official and unofficial “fogueres” or bonfires all over Barcelona on the Nit de Sant Joan with possibly the most important being on La Barceloneta Beach. Friends and family will spend their time chatting and laughing together eating the festival’s traditional coca cakes and drinking Cava while colorful fireworks burst in the air, fire dances in the bonfires, and children run around throwing firecrackers on the ground.
It is truly an experience that is unique to Catalunya, beautifully exemplifying the people’s spirit that burns bright like the flames that illuminate the night.