The most magical summer night
On the night of June 23, one of the most popular celebrations in Catalonia takes place, the “Revetlla de Sant Joan”, the Saint John’s Eve Party. All the towns and cities of Catalonia celebrate the festivity of Saint John and, although not everybody do so in the same way, the centre stage is taken by fire, firecrackers, coca (Cake) and cava. But don’t panic!!! That coca is delicious and can be eaten from children to the elderly. Keep reading and we will tell you everything.
What is la Revetlla de Sant Joan?
The revetlla (in Catalan) or the verbena (in Spanish) is a festival with pagan origins that celebrated the summer solstice. Catholic Church shaped up it to its calendar by making it coincide with th celebration of the birth of Saint John the Baptist.
Saint John the Baptist is one of the few saints whose birth is celebrated. In most cases, a saint’s holiday coincides with the date of his death. But, how do we know when Saint John the Baptist was born? Easy!! Biblical texts say that he was born 6 months before Jesus. So…, Desember 25 > June 24. It is clear, no? There are a couple of day of difference with the solstice, but come on, it is almost the day.
Why is it celebrated?
In many cultures, bonfires were lit on the shortest night of the year, which in addition to purifying and fleeing evil spirits, also served to give strength to the sun, which from that moment begins to lose intensity, since the night begins to be longer from those days. Some of those cultures even believed that the sun was beginning to die.
Since when is it celebrated?
This festival is surely one of the most traditional, although the documentation that tells us about it is relatively recent. However, we knwo that in Barcelona it was already celebrated in the 12th century, and in the 18th century it was forbidden to light bonfires inside the walled city to prevent the spread of the flames.
How is it the party?
If there is something that identifies the celebration of the festival of Saint John in Catalonia, it is fire and noise. Families and friends gather on the terraces, streets and squares decked out to eat and drink all together, because any party is a good opportunity to gather around a table.
Bonfires are lit in the squares of many neighborhoods, towns and cities, feeding on furniture and other old junk. In coastal towns, bonfires are usually made on the beach sand, since in addition to the purifying fire, also the sea water and th first light of dawn purity and chase away evil spirits.
As if this were not enough, flares and firecrackers of all sizes and types, from bomblets to fireworks, through whistling rockets, thunder and fountains, fill the sky with roars that, to scare, if possible, more bad spirits.
And, what do we eat?
Good question. Because as in all traditional festivals, we also have somethin special to eat for Saint John Eve’s. We eat COCA DE SANT JOAN. Don’t worry, we’re telling you right now what that is. But first, take a look at it. It looks good, right?
COCA is a word that derives from Old Dutch and means cake. From the same root, kok, derives the English cake or the German kuchen. The origin of coca in Catalonia is in the use of bread that had not swollen. Housewives stretched it out and used it as a base for savory or sweet cakes.
Candied fruit coca is the most typical of the cocas de Sant Joan, but coca de llardons (graves) or coca de recapte (picking whatever, which are salty, usually with roasted vegetables, fresh cheese, anchovies, etc.), are also eaten. Everything is delicious. These cocas were originally round and with a hole in the center, as if they were a sun. Someone must have thought they were too “heathen” and began to become rectangular.
And to accompany the coca, CAVA, of course. And then, people dance, sing and throw firecrackers un until daylights falls. Or until the body resists.
Other ways to have Saint John’s Eve party
In some towns of the Pyrenees, and not only in Catalonia, but also in Andorra, Aragon or southern France, the night of Sant Joan is celebrated with the Descend of Fallas.
The name FALLA derives from the Latin fácula which means antorch. Fallas are burned from mid-June to the end of July, coinciding with the town’s biggest festivals, but the central day is the night of Saint John. The fallas from Isil, Boí and Pont de Suert are celebrated that night.
A few weeks before the party, young men from the towns climb the mountain and cut a trunk of approximately 1.5 meters. Once prepared, they leave it drying on the mountain. Arriving on the eve of that day, they climb to the top of a mountain, the faro, where they light a first bonfire with which they later light the torches. At the exit sign, they run down a path with the fallas on until they reach the town square where they have just been burned in a large bonfire.
Since 2015, the Fallas from Pyrenees have been declared Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.
About 30,000 bonfires are lit each year with the Canigou fire.
Did you know that bonfires in Catalonia are lit with a flame that arrives the same day 23 from the top of Canigou?. Canigou is a mythical mountain in the eastern Pyrenees. It is located in France, but until the 17th century was part of Catalonia. And at the end of the 19th century it inspired one of the most important epic poems in Catalan literature, written by Mossén Jacint Verdaguer.
This tradition began in the 50s 7 60s of the 20th century. On June 22 at night, a group of volunteers climbed the Canigou with the flame, which is kept burning all year round in the Museu de la Casa Pairal in Perpignan. At the top of the mountain, a new bonfire is lit with which the fire is renewed and from there it begins to spread throughout the territory. Thanks to a complex system of volunteers who transport it through a chain of delivery and relay centers, it will be sent to all of Catalonia and some points in Aragón and Valencia.
This 2020 the celebration of the Saint John’s eve will be a little different, but we are sure that it will be a magnificent occasion for families and friends to meet again after confinement.