Catalonia awakes to Sant Joan hangover

Bonfires and firecrackers light up Midsummer?s Eve and 'cava' and 'coca' are a must at every table. Sant Joan marks the beginning of the summer.

Sergio Uceda

June 26, 2010 04:22 AM

The 24th of June in Catalonia could be called the Day After the Night Before. The Night Before being Sant Joan's Eve, when around midnight, firecrackers explode at almost every corner, on the beach and from balconies and terraces all over town. Families and friends gather together to drink cava as they indulge into the special sweetbread with candy fruits known as the “coca de Sant Joan”. Concepts of time and noise take on new meaning as Summer Solstice takes over.
The eve of Sant Joan still remains a special night on the Catalan calendar. Weeks before, homemade stalls appear on pavements selling firecrackers and fireworks. Normally they are of two types: extremely luminous firecrackers or very noisy ones, depending on the intensity of the product. For that very reason, the Catalan Government has given stern advice in order to avoid accidents with fireworks and bonfires. However, the most popular item remains the innocent firecrackers called “bombetas”, used mainly by children. Before Sant Joan’s eve, 625 fireworks shops in Barcelona, 116 in Tarragona, 102 in Girona and 70 in Lleida were doing steady business. According to the firework sellers, Catalans spend an average of 30 euros every Sant Joan. Although many fireworks can be heard exploding days beforehand, most of them are reserved for Midsummer’s Eve and especially for the midnight hour. On the night itself, people gather together on the beaches, where they dance, launch their fireworks and jump over bonfires. Others stay with their families, eating coca de Sant Joan first and then going out into the streets to light their fireworks.

The coca de Sant Joan is a special cake eaten for Sant Joan’s Eve. Days before, bakery shop windows display all the possible coca combinations available: cracklings, jellied fruit mixed with pine nuts, and cream among many others. Around 1.7 million 'coques' were expected to be sold this Sant Joan’s Eve and each family would have spent between 16 and 30 euros on this cake. The fruit and pine nut variety (brioche coca) still remains the favourite. Cocas are usually washed down with cava, a Catalan sparkling wine.

When dawn breaks, the locals wake up after an exciting and tiring night. Fortunately the 24th of June is a holiday in Catalonia and as such it is still possible to hear some people setting off leftover fireworks.

Unfortunately, Sant Joan is normally a busy day at the hospital and this particular one has been especially tragic. In Castelldefels, a town near Barcelona, 13 people died after being run over by a train at the local station while they were heading towards a party. Besides this terrible accident, this Sant Joan’s Eve, 131 people have been admitted into hospitals due to accidents related to fireworks and firecrackers: 74 with serious burns, 17 suffering from traumatism or amputations while 37 people have eye injuries. Fire-fighters had to deal with 978 cases.