Closed beaches but plenty of food and drink: Sant Joan during coronavirus

Catalonia’s biggest nocturnal festival of fire and food will look different due to Covid-19 but will still be celebrated

A baker decorates a Sant Joan 'coca' during the Covid-19 pandemic (by Norma Vidal)
A baker decorates a Sant Joan 'coca' during the Covid-19 pandemic (by Norma Vidal) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

June 23, 2020 02:32 PM

The eve of Sant Joan, celebrated on the night of June 23 long into the early hours of June 24, is Catalonia’s biggest nocturnal festival of fire and food

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.

In normal times, the beaches of Barcelona and Catalonia are packed with thousands of people enjoying firework shows and lighting their own bonfires. Accompanying the fire is always plenty of food and as much beer, wine, and more to wash it down. Lots of noise should also be expected, as firecrackers are hugely popular among teenagers and adults alike. 

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

This year, however, things are going to be a little different. Despite the state of alarm having come to an end the previous weekend, the ‘new normality’ still comes with its own set of preventive measures against the spread of Covid-19. 

Barcelona’s beaches will be closed from 8 pm on Tuesday and won’t open again until 10 am the following day, and the ‘xiringuito’ beach bars will also be closing at the same time. 

The traditional sport of ‘castellers’ - human tower building - which makes up a large part of the celebrations in Valls, won’t be taking place this Sant Joan. 

'Castellers' usually kick off the festivities on the night of June 23 as well as having another human tower competition at noon on the day of Sant Joan, which traditionally begins the 'casteller' season.

Only small bonfires of one square meter in size will be permitted, if in controlled settings and without large groups around them. 

Smaller fireworks are encouraged for this year, as authorities want to ensure the festival passes by with less intensity than normal.

A torch burning ceremony is taking place in Plaça del Rei in the center of Barcelona to mark the occasion, with the reading of a manifesto written by ten anonymous people who worked on the front line against the coronavirus pandemic

For those looking to party later in nightclubs rather than the open air, the rules of the ‘new normality’ will undoubtedly affect any plans, although it will still be possible to go to late-night bars.  

On June 22, the Catalan government issued an extra rule specifying that bars, nightclubs and similar establishments will be able to allow dancing but only among people that "very usually" are in touch, like friends – and they will have to register if they want to dance.

Cakes for Alzheimer's patients

The Catalan Alzheimer's Foundation have gifted around 50 patients suffering from the condition with traditional Sant Joan 'coca' cakes and a bottle of cava. 

The purpose of the gifts is twofold: to help "activate" their memory of past Sant Joan celebrations, as well as celebrating the end of lockdown. 

Lídia was one of the patients to receive the gifts, which made her happy, made her laugh, as well as cry. 

The organization also says that Alzheimer's patients have had to endure a "double confinement" - that of Covid-19, as well as social isolation.