|A Character at a Sant Joan Fireworks Display|
In Catalunya a great deal of emphasis is placed on the Summer Solstice - the shortest night of the year. It is a public holiday renowned for the electric atmosphere in the air and the crazy parties that take place. If you are in Barcelona during this period there is no way that you will miss the date - fires in the streets and the constant crack of fireworks will make sure of that! The celebrations take place on 23 June each year but the actual feast day is on the 24 June.
This page covers the day in depth - where you should head for the action, the background to the occasion, the opening hours of shops and restaurants during this period and the traditions of the feast.
|The Barceloneta Fireworks Display|
The Feast of Sant Joan celebrates the start of the summer. It is the longest day of the year and what is known as the Summer Solstice in England. It is one of the most important feast days for Catalans and is celebrated throughout the city. The idea is that on the night of Sant Joan the sun reaches its highest point, before beginning to drop. The sun is seen as a symbol of fertility and wealth and so it must be given strength. The strength is provided by bonfires and fireworks lit throughout the city for Sant Joan.
There are said to be three symbols of Sant Joan - fire, water and herbs. Fire symbolises purity, and for this reason fires are lit. Water symbolises healing. Therefore, on this night, in some areas people bathe in the sea. Herbs symbolise remedy and some claim that for the night of Sant Joan their healing qualities are enhanced one hundred times over. These are often picked on the night of Sant Joan.
Many of these rituals are very obscure and you may not experience them during your visit to Barcelona. However, the one element that you cannot fail to miss is the fire.
|People sitting upon the beach in Barceloneta|
Sant Joan is often described by Catalans as the 'Nit del Foc' - meaning the 'Night of Fire'. The main aspect to the celebrations is fireworks. In the days leading up to the celebrations you will see temporary fireworks shops open up throughout the city, with queues down the street. Many groups of families and friends organise their own parties - known as 'Reveltes'. Barcelona is a city made up of balconies and terraces, therefore those with the largest balcony or the best views of the city invite friends and family to watch fireworks, eat and dance the night away.
|People enjoying dinner on Sant Joan|
If you do not have a friend's party to go to, the most common place for people to head to for Sant Joan is the beach. Barceloneta beach begins filling up during the early evening on 23 June, with groups who bring picnics and cava to watch the fireworks displays and listen to the music playing in the chiringuitos (beach bars). Groups of musicians and drummers also gather to provide the sound track to the evening's events.
During the early part of the evening the local restaurants along the beach front put out extra tables, chairs and decorations. The restaurants are popular with the locals, who start the night with a large dinner - lining their stomachs for the long night of drinking and dancing that lies ahead.
|Drummers during Sant Joan Festivities|
As the beach tends to get very busy, it is a good idea to head down there before it gets dark to stake your claim on a spot - around 21:00. Bring picnic blankets and warm layers for when the sun goes down. If you are with small children, it is also important to remember that the beach gets increasingly hectic as the night goes on, with firecrackers and fireworks going off all around. You may wish to get to the beach early so that you leave by around 00:00 midnight.
The bars along the beach front and in the surrounding areas often build special bars at the front of the building, selling drinks and snacks for the party people as they arrive at the beach.
|Santa Marta Beach Bar|
You will also find that the squares in all of the local plazas have displays taking place. These are often not for the faint hearted but they are very exciting. Locals in costumes put on various displays involving fireworks. The one that I saw this year took place in Plaza de Barceloneta. It involved a man dressed as the devil and many other people in costumes. Groups of men came running into the centre of the square with large fireworks in their hand. They ran around the centre of the crowd with sparks flying all around. It was a really exciting experience - all enhanced by having to put out the sparks that flew into my friend's hair!
You may find it difficult to find any official information about what is taking place in the local barrios. During the day and early evening, keep your eyes peeled for squares where displays are being set up and prepared for the evening. If you find one that catches your eye, return there for around the time when it starts to get dark and you are sure to see an interesting show.
The only official food of Sant Joan is called the 'Coque'. These are bread style cakes that you will see in bakery windows throughout the city. There are various types available - both sweet and savoury. Some contain crackling, fruit and nuts or cream. The one ingredient that they all share in common is anise - giving all of the Coques a distinctive aniseed flavour.
Aside from these cakes, there are no other traditional foods for this feast day. You will find that many Catalans eat out for dinner on the evening of 23 June. If you have a restaurant in mind that you would like to eat at, it may be best to reserve a table to ensure that you will not be disappointed. As mentioned below, the day after the Feast of Sant Joan - 24 June, is a bank holiday. Therefore you may find that many of the restaurants are closed on this date.
The main festivities for the Feast of Sant Joan take place on 23 June - Midsummer's Eve. Rather like Christmas Eve, this is not actually a public holiday, so you will find that all of the bars, shops, restaurants are open as normal on these days.
The 24 June is a public holiday in Barcelona. You will find that most of the bars, shops, restaurants are closed for the day. On this day in Barcelona there is a definite 'day after' feeling in the air. The only people that you are likely to see in the streets are the bin men working diligently to clean up the fireworks packets, beer bottles and streamers that line the pavements. Many people will have danced until the early morning and so curtains are closed as people sleep off hangovers.
If you wish to experience the magic without being caught up in the craziness of the beach, you may wish to head into the hills and watch the city from above. You could head up to Montjuïc castle with a picnic and watch the firework displays taking place all over the city.
|Fireworks Display in Barceloneta|
The Feast of Sant Joan is one of the most exciting times of the year to be in Barcelona. At the start of summer, there is already a feeling of excitement in the air. This is magnified ten fold on this electric night when the streets are filled with both young and old, making the most of the feast day celebrations. In true Spanish style, the celebrations are embraced wholeheartedly, with displays and parties taking place in every nook and cranny of the city. Do not expect any events in particular to be taking place - simply gather up your friends, some food and drink and hit the streets to enjoy the mayhem.