Arriving in Santiago de Compostela on June 23rd was the most perfect of timing.  Only in town for the weekend, I assumed I would be only (I use this word lightly) be taking in the cities main tourism hotspots and sights.  Sights such as the cities stunning cathedral, or the blissful Alameda parklands. What I didn’t expect on my first night in town was a flown blown festival experience – Festas de San Juan.

Translation:  The Festival of Saint John – the celebration of summers’ arrival.

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Now who doesn’t love Summer? What more of a reason to celebrate than getting to feel the warmth of that big flaming ball in the sky, and in turn experience a bit of Vitamin D after months and months of cold, wind and rain I.e the English weather most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong, winter is cool too. If you’ve ever read my Blog before you may have gathered that I am quite the fan of the snow and snowboarding, but while those white mountain pistes are oh so alluring, I actually consider them more accessible than a sunny day in London, and so maybe cherish a proper summer that bit more.

Of course a ‘proper’ summer in the UK usually maxes out after around the 3 weeks mark, and that’s in a good year. Over in Spain though, the old currant bun appears in the sky a little more often, at you’d expect it to, and usually stays there for a duration.  When you know it’s coming and that it’s likely to stay that way for a while, summer becomes much easier to plan for, and in turn celebrate, and some of the best summer celebrations can be found in Santiago, Spain. 

Welcoming the sunshine and sizzling heat of summer requires only one thing, more heat. I jest, as a pale and delegate skinned Brit I can only handle so much heat before retreating to the shadows and proceeding to slap on copious amounts of aftersun. ‘Burnt under a light bulb’ is the phrase I believe.  

Not the people of Santiago de Compostela though, street parties complete with bonfires and BBQ’s are the preferred and traditional means of welcoming summer, tall and roaring bonfires, spread throughout the city and accessible via what I have named ‘the bonfire train’ (see below, it’s a real thing).

The people of Galacia and Santiago de Compostela celebrate the summer on the longest night, the night of San Juan.

noche_de_san_juan_1

Festas de San Juan

Noche de San Juan – The night of San Xoan, or San Juan.

Aka the magical night of St. John.

Aka St John’s eve

Aka June 23rd.

Aka the longest day of the year. 

No matter how exactly it is referenced to, this is simply an incredible evening of celebration among a community which appears very tight knit.   Food, drink and music are shared, people dance and retail stories. It’s very heartwarming to bear witness to, and also very exciting as the music is faster rather than slower, meaning that the mood and spirits are upbeat, and everyone is in great spirits. Spirits high enough to consider jumping over bonfires a grand idea.   

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fire

So as you may have guessed from the above, fire plays a large part in the night of San Juan.

A symbol of summer, this sacred, protective and purifying element must be looked after and cared for, it should not be allowed to dwindle.

The influence of fire on the San Juan celebrations is quite clear.  The bonfires, or ‘cacharelas’, spread about the old town represent purity, and the local custom is to leap and bound over the fires so to embrace the magical power of fire, and ward of evil spirits and spells.

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

In order for the fire hoppers to reap the benefits of their efforts, they must leap over the cacharelas an odd number of times. Usually between 3 and 9 efforts will do the trick.

The smoke pouring from the fires and streetside BBQs is also believed to provide protect for both man and animal from evil.  Also the ashes from the fires is also sometimes kept to provide protection from adverse weather and business relations.

While stationed a safe enough distance from these roaring mounds (possibly with a beer in hand ;) ) I also noticed people throwing what appeared to be folded up pieces of paper into the flames.  Presumably jotted down on the pieces of paper were hopes, dreams and wishes for the future.  Either that or everyone was trying their best to enter the tri-wizard tournament, but I doubt it.

Fire as we all know is hypnotic, and as a sort of centre piece to the night celebrations I feel that the bonfire really helped define the event and give it greater meaning. Maybe it was because of the obvious dangers that fire can bring, and the resulting respect and consideration it is due.

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Fiesta de San Juan Santiago

Water

H2O, the most essential of element for life.

During San Juan water is as of much importance as fire, evening if not so apparent in the celebrations.

During Noche de San Juan water is believed to be at its most powerful, more so than at any other point of the year, and come nightfall the water based rituals performed at local fountains and springs aid the locals in protecting their bodies and souls, while at at the same time washing away an illness or diseases.

Something to note though, these rituals and any drinking from the fountains must take place before midnight.  Why? Well the city’s fountains are said to play host to both fairies (aka mouras) and evil beings.  Drinking from a fountain before the clock strikes twelve will bring positive energy and well being via the fairies, but should you take water after midnight and the effects would be reversed, and you run the risk of being struck down ill, as you’d have disturbed the water whilst it was sleeping.

There is also a tradition of collecting water on the eve of San Juan, but not in buckets.  The collection of the nights dew is also seen as very important, as it is seen as purifying.  Locals leave out not only woolen clothes and bedsheets, but also the seven San Juan herbs …

  1. Wood fern
  2. Male fern
  3. Laburnum
  4. St Johns wort
  5. Mallow
  6. Rosemary, and
  7. Lemon Verbena

Come morning, the sodden herbs will be used to wash oneself, with the aim of skin rejuvenation.

The Sun Dance

Santiago de Compostela is a university town, so its probably needless to say that the party goes on a while, all the way till dawn, but with good reason (not just because of booze)!

At dawn on June 24th, there is a traditional of finding an unobstructed view of the skyline, and watching the new sun and previous nights moon enjoy a short dance together, surrounded by all the worlds witches.

Verdict

Whilst I didn’t make it all the way to dawn to partake in the watching of the sunrise, I can still give two big thumbs up to the Festas de San Juan.

The bonfires, music and BBQ were always going to be big hit with me, but the community spirit and general sense of joy and positivity was all too apparent as well.  The vibe along the cobbled streets of the UNESCO inducted old town was excellent, and if anything was missing from my experience, it was that I didn’t have anyone there with me to share in it.  Festivals on your tod maybe aren’t the one, but I still had a great time and would struggle not to recommend June 23rd as the best time to visit Galacia and Santiago de Compostela.

#SpainCities

This guide has been created as a part of the #SpainCities project, whereby 9 fantastic bloggers, and myself, each travelled to 10 different cities across Spain to experience 48 incredible hours over the weekend of 23 and 25 June 2017.

If you want to know and see more of each of the cities covered, check out the below links to the other 9 awesome bloggers who went out in search of the best Spain has to offer.

  • Segovia – Sabrina from Girl Vs Globe
  • Cadiz – Chloe from Wanderlust Chloe
  • Santander – Mark from The Common Wanderer
  • Cacares – Nicola from Polkadot Passport
  • Girona – Andrew from Along Dusty Roads
  • Ovideo – Nienke from The Travel Tester
  • Bilbao – Jessica from The Travelista
  • Zaragoza – Ellie from The Wanderig Quinn
  • Murcia – Emily from Emily Luxon Travels

… Also check out the hashtag on twitter #SpainCities and Instagram #SpainCities

Where in the world?

Offers

Discounts and Offers

festival of San Juan