Here we go…the bonfires of San Juan take place tonight. This is going to be our second time experiencing this Spanish Festival and we get to see it front row and center. It pretty much sums of the epitome of what Spaniards love in a festival – food and drink, fire and noise, and crowding into a beautiful place together (did we mention a lot of noise…?). Here’s our little run down on what we know and have experienced about the bonfires of San Juan here on the Spanish Mediterranean.
What's Key for the Bonfires of San Juan
For those of us coming from the US, it seems at first like a crazy fire hazard, yet we’re learning that the parking situation on our beachfront dirt road may be the bigger danger. But heck, they have Fallas here and the city and towns of Valencia have not burned down yet! We say all this in good nature, because these are all things about living in Spain that we love. That and it’s just the fact that it’s different to what we became used to for so long. Highlighting these aspects of the Spanish life inspires us and gives us a good laugh.
To put it simply, the bonfires of San Juan are all about fire, water and the beach. At least here in Denia they are. Of course, there’s also the gathering of friends and family with food and plenty of drink (especially of Spanish wine). The actual day of San Juan is the 24th of June, but the festivities kick off the night before and go through the night into the wee hours of the morning.
We live right at the beginning of the Las Marinas Beach and from here you can see how the beach stretches down along the coast away from the town. To the other direction of the Marina El Portet, the castle and the town itself, is what we refer to as the Denia Beach, but is more officially named Punta del Raset. Tonight, this whole sandy shoreline will be dotted with blazing fires and packed with people, adults and children, teenagers and seniors. Practically most of Denia turns out for this and visitors from out of town.
As you can imagine, it’s going to be one huge party out of hundreds of tiny parties along the beaches here, even around the popular chiringuitos (beach bars). The one closest to us (and our favorite because the people there are awesome!), is the Chiringuito Mojito. They’ve been getting ready for the bonfires of San Juan for a few weeks now. Wonder if they have extra fire extinguishers on hand…?!?
Tradition and Fun
The tradition of the day of San Juan is that at midnight (when the day officially starts), you jump over your bonfire, representing leaving behind things of the past year that you don’t want to carry on (maybe that’s in case you catch on fire!). Then for extra measure and good health throughout the next year, you run and jump into the sea. Some people like to burn things in their fire as well, to purge negative energy from their life. Or something like that.
We personally love the representations of the cleansing of fire and water, the two popularly referenced Earth elements that have been valued since ancient civilizations. We wonder if this is still carried on in Spain from the Moorish influence of when the Moors inhabited the Iberian Peninsula. Have you heard of the tradition in other cultures?
In Xábia (spelled Javea in Castellano) and some other small towns along the coast here, some people bring out their old furniture as fuel for their bonfires. We haven’t seen them do that in Denia but who knows what one may see at each year’s festival. Other items that are commonly part of the party here in Denia are small bbq’s for cooking on, unless people feel like using their bonfire, which people do too. Gotta have great food and drink as part of the celebrations!
How the Bonfires of San Juan are Done Elsewhere
We’ve been hearing that in Javea, the town on the other side of Montgo from us, they make a much bigger deal about San Juan. They start celebrating a week or two before the actual day, with loud cannons shot off each day, brass bands playing music in the streets late at night and even early in the mornings, and large Falla-like figures made of paper maché that are paraded through town and later burned.
In the larger city of Alicante, even further south of us, this festival is way bigger. They do elaborate parades with Spanish Stallions, deck out their streets with lights and banners, and have fireworks and plenty of noise and music every day for the week or two in advance. It’s one of their biggest festivals of the year.
The History of the Bonfires of San Juan
It’s probably not a big surprise that this festival is based on a religious holiday and Saint’s Day. Go figure – that’s pretty much where the countless holidays in Spain come from. But going even further back, many of them originate from ancient pagan rituals. That’s the case with the bonfires of San Juan also celebrating the Summer Solstice which just took place this week.
San Juan, or Saint John the Baptist, is the patron saint of many of the towns here in the Costa Blanca. So there are also special masses at the end of the week of celebrations and in the parades in towns you’ll see that today this festival still carries it’s predominantly religious affiliation.