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Sant Joan: Catalonia's nocturnal festival of fire and food

You won’t get much sleep if you’re in Catalonia on Sunday night

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23 June 2019 02:13 PM

by

Daniel Wittenberg | Barcelona

On Sunday night, the sky will be aflame with fireworks, the streets filled with live music and bonfires, the beaches with picnics and cava, as Catalans celebrate Sant Joan: nocturnal festival of fire and food.

Beaches

On Barcelona’s coastal strip, seaside businesses and chiringuito beach bars are getting ready for the biggest and noisiest outdoor celebration of the year.

More than 50,000 people are expected to come down to Barceloneta late in the evening  lining the waterfront and their stomachs  to let off fireworks and listen to amateur bands and drummers. The most daring among them might go for a midnight dip in the Med...

A long night of drinking and dancing lies ahead on one of the shortest nights.

Background

A bit like Bonfire Night in Britain, June 23 is the night Catalans play with fire.

Sant Joan has Christian and pagan roots, its traditions originating both from the birthday of John the Baptist and the ancient glorification of the solstice.

While it is celebrated around the world, especially across Spanish-speaking countries, the folk magic surrounding the festival is strongest in Catalonia.

Bonfires and fireworks

As well as the beachside gatherings, households and neighborhoods all over the place host parties that go on until dawn, revolving around their own bonfires.

Temporary stalls selling fireworks pop up in urban areas about two weeks before the event. They put in mass orders for fireworks, firecrackers and other trinkets every June. And on the night itself, adults and children spill out onto the streets to set them all off.

Burning torches

Away from the big cities, in villages up in the Pyrenees, locals carry burning torches down from the mountains to ignite their bonfires, in a custom recently recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage event.

Bakeries

Like any good party, of course, there’s plenty of pastry – most iconically, a special Sant Joan version of the classic brioche-inspired Catalan cake called the coca.

And if all the food and refreshments are a bit too much to digest, the following day is a public holiday across Spain, so Catalans have plenty of time to recover.

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  • Fireworks go off for Sant Joan on June 23 2016 (by Lourdes Casademont)

  • Fireworks go off for Sant Joan on June 23 2016 (by Lourdes Casademont)

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