Spain has many fiestas and festivals that reflect the traditions and love of a good time of the Spanish people themselves.
But some seem to embody the Andalusian enthusiasm for getting together with friends and family more than others—and the upcoming festival of San Juan is a fine example of this. In Marbella, in common with the rest of Andalucía, the event is celebrated on June 23rd, although the party doesn’t get going until after dark. Locals head for the beach and a night illuminated by roaring bonfires, with lots of food and fun follows. It makes for a memorable image as crowds of people lit up by the flickering flames enjoy the party until the early hours.
The roots of the festival go back to the pagan celebrations that mark the summer solstice. The night revolves around fire and water—fire to cleanse the body and soul, and water to wash away evil spirits. Tradition states that if you jump over the fire three times during San Juan you will be cleansed and purified, and your problems will be burned away, while people who wash their feet and faces three times will have three wishes granted and enjoy 12 months of happiness.
The sight of hundreds of people thronging the beaches and approaching the water to bathe away ‘evil spirits’ as the clocks strike 12 can be quite magical, with the scent of smoke in the air and hundreds of flickering fires burning along the sandy shores. A sense of camaraderie seems to envelop young and old, with offers of food and drink made to passing strangers and new friendships forged.
Some of the San Juan festivities are more organised than others as various towns put on concerts and entertainment through the night. At times effigies of public figures are burned—originally it was a figure of Judas that was torched, but Spaniards have more modern villains to burn now!
The sun rising is the sign that the party is over and the crowds make their way home as cleaning crews arrive to return the beaches to their pristine condition.
For those unwilling to head home just yet, the traditional Spanish ‘hangover cure’ breakfast of churros—sugared dough fritters—dunked in thick hot chocolate awaits in numerous cafés –the perfect place to continue those long conversations from the night before.
So make sure you put the date in your diary and head to the beach after dark on June 23rd—just don’t expect to get back home until you see the sun rise on the 24th!