Fireworks from our terrace.
Last night, June 23rd, we celebrated "La Revetlla de Sant Joan" (AKA: Nit de Sant Joan or Verbenas de Sant Joan). June 24th is the Festival of Saint John the Baptist, which is a Catalan holiday. The night before, people gather for a midsummer's eve celebration of special pastries called coca, herbal symbols, bonfires, fireworks and cava.
We headed to nearby Sant Cugat's plaza near the monastery to witness how the locals celebrate the holiday. We watched the Bastoners de Sant Cugat do traditional dances with wood sticks and the talented Castellers de Sant Cugat build an impressive human tower. Afterwards, the locals joined in a community Sardana, a traditional Catalan dance.
Unfortunately, we didn't stay through the whole program. We left a bit around 9 pm, when there was still daylight and the bonfire was not lit. The kids were getting cranky so we decided to finish the celebrations at home with cava, cocas and watching fireworks from our back terrace.
A Symbolic Celebration
There are three ancient symbols for Sant Joan festivities: fire, water and herbs. Fire represents the purification of sin and warding off evils spirits. Water is also used as a cleansing ritual and on this night it is believed to have curative powers. Also, on this night, herbs, such as verbena, rosemary and thyme, are believe to increase their remedial properties and are collected.
Fire and Fireworks
"Qui encén foc per Sant Joan no es crema en tot l'any."
He who lights the fire for Sant Joan will not burn all year round.
In towns and cities throughout Catalunya bonfires are lit from La Flama del Canigó. This is a flame that dates back to 1955 when Vallespir Francesc Pujades, inspired by Verdaguer's poem "Canigó," lit a fire at the Canigou summit on the night of Sant Joan. This flame is a symbol of Catalan unity and pride. Volunteers hike to the summit to bring the flame down to the cities of Catalunya. We saw the arrival of "La Flama" in Sant Cugat and listened to a few of the political speeches about the struggle for Catalan autonomy. Other parts of Spain, will also celebrate Sant Joan with bonfires in town plazas or on the beach, but I don't think those fires have a secondary meaning of political struggle and identity as here in Catalunya. I have read that some people even jump over the bonfires as a cleansing ritual.
People set-off fireworks to ward off evil spirits by the loud noises. The noise of fireworks on the Fourth of July in the USA (at least where I have lived) is nothing compared to the noise on Nit de Sant Joan. All night long, we listened to small explosions and watched fireworks throughout the neighborhood.
"Les herbes de Sant Joan tenen virtut tot l'any."
The herbs of Sant Joan retain their virtues all year round.
Herbs, such as verbena, rosemary and thyme, are believe to increase their remedial properties one hundred times and are collected for treatment purposes. People also clean and perfume their houses with these herbs.
"Bany de Sant Joan, salut per tot l'any."
Bathe on Sant Joan and you'll be healthy all year round.
It is believed that during the night of Sant Joan, water has stronger curative powers. On the beaches, people take a dip at midnight or wash their face with morning dew (how you do the latter, I have no clue.)
During the night, people gather at the homes of friends and family to celebrate into the wee hours of the morning. The streets were packed as people drove and walked to each other's homes with coca and cava in hand. At the grocery store, special tables were stacked high with a variety of coca with nearby crates of cava. People made long queues for cocas from their favorite bakeries. According to the Federación Catalana de Pastelería 1,700,000 cocas were expected to be consumed during this holiday!
For more information check out these links about Sant Joan celebrations.