The more superstitious and enthusiastic participants get up to far more than just having a drink around a big bonfire with strange, bizarre and sometimes alarming activities taking place! With that in mind I thought I’d write about some the sights that a visitor to Spain might see during this time and help avoid some of the head scratching and the obvious questions of ‘why?’ that are so often overheard whilst watching this festivals happenings. So let’s kick off with the obvious question of ‘why are there bonfires?’
The hogueras de San Juan
The bonfires or hogueras as they’re known in Spanish have two primary roles in this festival; the first is a cleansing effect, removing the sins of the past year from onlookers and participants via various rituals that vary across Spain. In the south many locals jump over the fire three times to purify themselves of their misdemeanors and burn away their problems whilst in Galicia you have to work harder for your reward with the accepted number of leaps being nine. If whilst leaping you throw a plat of flowers and colored ribbons to your sweetheart and they catch it without it touching the ground there will be happiness and good fortune for you both in the year ahead. So during San Juan expect to see a lot of jumping people!
The second role of the fires comes very much from this festivals pagan roots with the lighting of a bonfire giving more strength to the sun as from this day onwards the days become shorter and the sun weaker.
Washing in the sea or rivers at midnight
If you’re on the coast for San Juan something that you’ll definitely see is hoards of people making their way to the sea to have a splash around just after midnight. There are lots of interpretations of this with some going to wash their faces and feet three times in order to be granted three wishes or for a happy and healthy twelve months thereafter, whilst others go to cleans themselves of their sins in much the same way as the fire does. It’s also been believed that if you jump nine waves with your back to the sea you’ll eliminate negative energies and improve female fertility.
In Andalucía people go to the sea to wash their faces to keep themselves healthy and beautiful although for this to be effective you can’t look at yourself in a mirror for the rest of the night.
Bathing in the sea at this time is genuinely believed to be beneficial for skin complaints and health in general and traditionally marked the first day of the year that Spanish people could visit the beach for pleasure. If you happen to be in an inland location during the festival you’ll likely see locals taking to the rivers to receive the same rewards that the coastal communities get from the sea.
Complementing the bonfires you’ll likely see some life size Muñecos or dolls that are placed atop the fire at midnight which are very reminiscent of Guy Fawkes on bonfire night in the UK. Originally this figure was to represent Judas Iscariot but its relevance seems to have been largely lost and now just makes up part of the fun and tradition for festival participants.
Although not something you’ll see on public display but still part of the tradition of San Juan is the ritual of the three potatoes. In parts of Spain, three potatoes are placed under your pillow before going to sleep; one peeled, one half peeled and one unpeeled. In the morning, pulling out one potato without looking predicts what the year ahead will bring – the peeled potato signifies monetary problems, the half peeled one means you will go through many ups and downs, and the unpeeled potato predicts health and prosperity in store. You may not get the best night’s sleep with this method of telling the future but I’ve always thought it was rather fun.
The truth is that this barely scratches the surface of the festival of San Juan with so many national and local traditions making a truly rich and vibrant celebration but hopefully a little information will go a long way the next time you’re in Spain for the night of San Juan.
On a local note, the Burriana beach in Nerja puts on a good show with live music and BBQ’s. And you can of course do your own thing on any of the beaches along the coast.
Source: Reproduced with kind permission from explorenerja.com