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My rural Spanish life: San Juan’s night

By Deborah Tanswell, Head Manager of GELA.

The eve of San Juan (June 23 rd ) is a celebration to signify the coming of summer and is
the name day of everybody called John or Jane (Juan or Juana), and is famous for
music and fires. Whether it takes place on the beaches or in the villages and towns
center, bonfires are built during the day from logs, old chairs, and palettes. At
midnight, after the fire has burned down low enough, it is considered lucky to run
quickly through the remaining embers kicking the glowing ashes into sparks and
igniting new flames.
According to legend this is supposed to cleanse the body and soul and, although in
some areas it is traditional to run into the sea afterwards to wash away any evil, for
others a soaking in beer seems to do the trick. In some regions, perhaps further from
sources of available water, it is traditional for people to wash their hands, feet and
faces three times after they run through the fire when they are granted three wishes
and good luck for the coming year. It is also believed that bathing during this night
relieves skin disorders and is beneficial for aging skin generally. Large ‘muñecos’ or
giant puppets are sometimes displayed in the Valencian region, which are thought to
signify the burning of Judas Iscariot, but often these days they have the faces of
politicians, especially unpopular ones and the crowd goes mad cheering at their
It is interesting that it was a popular festival in Britain too until the 19 th century and
was a time of great feasting with lots of drinking. It was called the Midsummer Festival
of Johnmas, celebrating the birth of St. John the Baptist, and was established by the
Christian Church in the 4 th century according to biblical records.
Almost every year there are many people scolded and burnt. Young men walk around
town the following day wearing their battle scars with pride, with scorched hair and
bandaged hands. However, occasionally the accidents are more serious, especially if
older or more inebriated revelers are involved.
Not recommend trying at home or without medical insurance. Enjoy the evening, it’s
an interesting and ancient event!