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Celebrating the ancient Catalan midsummer festival of Sant Joan

Updated: Jun 22, 2023

The night of Sant Joan, also known as the Revetlla de Sant Joan, (or Nit de Focs - the night of the fire), is a Midsummer celebration honoured in Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, including the islands of Ibiza, Menorca and Mallorca on the night of June 23 -24.

Jumping a street bonfire in San Juan Ibiza


The Feast of Sant Joan celebrates the start of the summer, around the the same time as the Summer Solstice, celebrated at Stonehenge and across England.

It is one of the most important feast days for Catalans and is celebrated throughout the region's towns and cities. Barcelona, like so many others, comes alive with an enormous street party through the day and into the night. The idea is that on the night of Sant Joan, the sun reaches its highest point, before beginning to drop. The sun is seen as a symbol of fertility and wealth, and so it must be given strength. In Barcelona La Revetlla is a wild night of parties, and celebrations at the beach, with bonfires, feasting, and fireworks lit for Sant Joan.


Jumping a street bonfire in Badalona, 1951


The days around the solstice are celebrated with customs dating back to medieval times that are reminiscent of other pagan solstice and midsummer celebrations across Europe. The days around the solstice are celebrated with customs that date back to medieval times, and are reminiscent of other pagan solstice celebrations across Europe. Traditions include the purifying fire, gravity-defying human towers, carnival parades, dancing the Sardana. and festivities that go on throughout the night. Families take walks into the mountains to gather special herbs and join friends and neighbours to party.

Bakeries such as Turris, across the city sell the 'Coca' cake -a sweet pastry covered in candied fruits and pine nuts , which is usually eaten wit plenty of Cava.


Find a recipe for it here at the sunday baker blog.

Traditional 'Coca' cake


Our Espardenyes are made in Valls, one of the key locations for this Festa Major, and the epicentre for the human towers tradition of Castells .

As well as the Castells folk dance groups perform the Sardana and other typical dances.

Folkloric dances for Sant Joan, Valls


Some of the traditional dances are similar to Morris dancing, but rather than clogs they wear Pinxo Espardenyes, customised in a mix of bright colours.


Human towers or 'Castells' of Valls


Giant Carnival figures , known as Gegants including a kind of variation on a pantomime horse, the Mule of Valls dance through the streets and all wearing the traditional Pinxo espadrilles. Our workshop prepares months in advance to get all the espadrilles needed ready in time.

Mulassa of Valls


The Gegants on parade


Traditional Pinxo  espaardenyes hanging up
Our authentic Pinxo espardenyes



Links and references:

A great explanation of the history of summer solstice traditions by the national trust here


The story of the human towers or Castells here

 

I'd love to hear if you've been to any of the festivities of Sant Joan and what they are like first hand, drop a comment below.

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