How is the Feast of Sant Joan Celebrated in Barcelona
Sant Joan in Barcelona (Catalan Language); San Juan in Spanish and St. John’s eve in English, it is one of the biggest celebrations in Catalonia. The feast is meant to celebrate the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. The actual day of the feast is on June 24, but in Catalonia it is celebrated the night before, midsummer’s eve.
Traditional Catalan Celebrations and Rituals
The festival of San Joan originated from a cult of the sun to celebrate the longest day of sunlight in the year, years later the Catholic Church combined the holiday with the birth of San Joan which made the traditions and symbols of the holiday what they are today.
The main element of the feast is fire. The summer solstice is the day that the sun is at its highest point in the sky, so lighting fires is said to give the sun strength. Fire is also believed to ward off evil spirits and misfortune in one’s life. For this reason, fireworks and bonfires are lit throughout the celebration. The sound of fireworks is said to ward off witches, demons, and other evil spirits.
Water and herbs symbolise healing and remedy. Especially in coastal areas of Catalunya, people will often “bathe” in the ocean in order to remain young and healthy. Herbs are picked for the festival and used as decoration.
There is a special fair that takes place during the Feast of Sant Joan called Verbena de San Juan. This fair has more religious and cultural aspects to it. Traditionally, people will leap over the fires that are lit, throw furniture into the fires, and write down their struggles to throw them into the fire.
Celebrating the Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona
Contrary to what some may think, the celebration of the Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona takes place on June 23, the night before the actual holiday. While the 24th, the feast day, is a bank holiday and many shops and restaurants are closed, it serves as a rest day after a long night of partying and celebrating. You will find the city of Barcelona is rather quiet on the actual holiday.
Prior to all of the partying and celebrations that take place on the eve of the feast, locals will often go to restaurants for a big meal to coat their stomachs for a long night of drinking. The restaurants prepare for this by putting up festive decorations and extra tables and chairs to accommodate the large crowds.
After dinner, locals will often go to a party to celebrate with their close friends and family, also known as “Revelles” and “Revetlles”. People with the highest balconies or terraces, often host these parties, so their friends and family can get the best view of all of the fireworks during Sant Joan in Barcelona.
Nit del Foc
The feast of San Joan is also known as ‘Nit del Foc’ meaning the night of fire, signifying that fire is the main event of the celebration. The kickoff of the celebration, at 17:45, is called the Flame of Canigó. Residents of the different neighbourhoods will light torches and bonfires one by one. This indicates that the parties are starting. Each person will then bring their torch to the party they are attending.
Throughout the night in the city, city squares, and local plazas you will see locals putting on firework shows. There are also temporary pop-up firework shops set up throughout the city, so you can light your own fireworks if you would like.
In the streets of the city, you will find locals imitating diables (devils) and dracs (dragons). They dress in costumes and light fires and fireworks in a way that emulates them.
Beware, although the festivities that involve fire are quite fun, they can also be very dangerous and chaotic. On the night of the celebration, hospitals are filled with people suffering from burns from the fire.
Expats Celebrating the Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona
New to Barcelona, but want to celebrate the feast of San Joan? Here’s how. A popular and lively place to go to if you don’t have a friend or family’s party to go to is La Barceloneta beach. The beach gets very crowded quickly, in previous years up to 60 thousand people vacated the beaches. So, it is best to arrive around 21:00.
People bring food and drinks to picnic on the beach, listen to the live music being performed, and eat at the beachfront bars that set up special stands to sell food and drinks for the night. The beach gets very chaotic as it gets dark, with bonfires and fireworks being lit rapidly.
Looking to celebrate the Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona, but want something less intense than La Barceloneta beach? Montjuich is the place for you. Atop the high mountain top you can watch all the fireworks and madness from a distance while you enjoy a peaceful picnic.
Coca de Sant Joan
A must-have Catalan delicacy that is served during celebrations of the Feast of Sant Joan is coca de Sant Joan. This is a cake that can be served both sweet and savoury. Coca de Sant Joan can be seen in many windows of bakeries throughout the city of Barcelona.
In addition, each year, a coca de Sant Juan contest is held. Participants will make coca de San Juan using the traditional recipe, and the cook of the best tasting cake receives a prize.
Aside from coca de San Juan and other Catalan pastries, alcoholic beverages are a very important part of celebrating the Feast of Sant Joan. Cava is often drunk among the locals during this celebration and frequently served at restaurants.