The Bonfires of San Juan – Spanish Festival Meets Summer Solstice
The bonfires of San Juan take place every year on the night of June 23rd. The first two times we experienced this Spanish Festival we got to see it front row and center because we were living right on the beach of Las Marinas in Denia, Spain.
This summer holiday is pretty much 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, this festival seems at first like a crazy fire hazard, yet we learned that the parking situation can 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. Highlighting these aspects of 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 (a religious and public holiday) 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.
Our first two years experiencing this festival, we lived right at the beginning of the Las Marinas Beach, which 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.
On the night of San Juan, the entire sandy shoreline is 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.
A Nifty Online Guide
Enjoy from the city of Denia this great site for knowing about various fantastic beaches we have here. Visit long enough to enjoy them all!
As you can imagine, it’s one huge party out of hundreds of tiny parties along the beaches here and even around the popular chiringuitos (beach bars). The one that was closest to us (and our favorite because the people there are awesome!), was the Chiringuito Mojito. They spend weeks getting ready for the bonfires of San Juan. Wonder if they keep 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 lives. Or something like that.
Another variation of these traditions among the locals is that they write down on a piece of paper the things they want to happen in their lives for the next year. Then they stand at the water’s edge on the beach, tear up the paper and toss it into the sea, and then finish by jumping over the waves twelve times. We’re not entirely sure what order that all goes in, but that’s the gift of it. And this can be done at midnight or the next day, on the actual day of San Juan.
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 on the 21st.
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-long celebrations. In the parades that towns have, you’ll also see how this festival still carries it’s predominantly religious affiliation.
What holidays/festivals have you experienced in Spain? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Written by Amalia & Eric
Founders & Producers of Move to Traveling
We’re Amalia and Eric – a traveling couple who are living a traveling lifestyle. Do you love to travel? Perfect! Come along…