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San Juan, history and tradition

San Juan is a very old Christian tradition  that has been celebrated In Spanish countries for many centuries, it’s probably one of the oldest festivities that was adopted by Spanish speakers. In this entry I’ll talk about this tradition, its origin, its history,  as its celebrated one of the regions of Spain or in the countries of Spanish America, whic is very interesting for foreign students and they can learn much of it.



San Juan was a festivity of pagan origin and of course it was not so called, and was popular among the Aztec, Celtic or Greek peoples. As with many festivals, before being adopted by Christianity, Hindus and many primitive peoples and each of them celebrated in a different way.

In most cultures San Juan  began as a festivity  in honor to the arrival of the summer solstice (this relation with the arrival of summer has helded in the Christian tradition, coinciding with the beginning of summer, on June 24).  In  celtic culture this festivity  was celebrated by lighting fires with the purpose  of venerating the Sun, which for them was their  main source  of energy and fought  to obtain the blessing on their homes and their lands, as well as to increase the fertility in women. The druids danced and sang around the fires and invoked the natural elements. This feast for them was known as the “Alban Heruin”, literally summer solstice.

In greek culture the arrival of summer was as important event or  even more  so than in the celtic.  For them the Sun  was a divinity , Helios, son of two titans, Hyperion and Tea and brother of Selene ( female divinity representing the Moon). Helios was represented as a strong man with golden hair who ran the solar vault in a carriage pulled by two black  steeds that threw fire through their jaws.  This God transmitted through his hair the light and the hot necessary for humans and animals to live, as did his contrapart, Selene, during the night. Specifically at the summer solstice, the Greek believed the Helios light entered the human spirit, so in his temples  offered offferings  in honor of Helios  or Apollo, considered the God  most related to the Sun, as well as the musical arts and the light, in many of whose versions he played a similar rol to Helios. The Romans did something similar with Phoebus, who was the divinity equivalent to Apollo in Greek mythology.

For the Hindu tradition, the arrival of the summer solstice was the date when the ancestors entered the physical world, where ceremonies were held in honor of them by shamans who could contact them through the flames of the bonfires.

Generally, in all primitive cultures, the festivity was always to a greater or lesser extent related to the Sun and the summer and this tradition was maintained when it was adopted by the Christian religion although with a more religious purpose.

The Christians were the ones who baptized this festivity with the name of San Juan, in homage to San Juan el Bautista, a saint who according to biblical tradition was born on this same date, with the belief that at birth, his father Zacharias lit a big bonfire, God for blessed him with a son.

It’s a costume in all the communities of Spain that in the night that includes between the 23 and the 24 of June many people carry out celebrations in honor to San Juan. In most of them bonfires are lit, burned, or danced around because, like the Aztecs and Celts, Christians also consider fire as one of the four elements : water, earth, air and fire, and that exerts a purifying effect that frees us from bad luck.

Water is also another very important element in the feast of San Juan, it is believed that water also has a purifying effect and during that night acquires healing properties, so it is customary to bathe in the river or in the sea.

Let’s take a look at the different rituals that the feast of San Juan presents in some regions of Spain:


Some customs among the Galicians to celebrate the feast of San Juan are: to light bonfires on the beach dancing or singing and eating sardines or patties, to see Coruña to light, to bathe in the sea in front of the fires bonfires or to jump on the bonfires to purify themselves.


The festival of San Juan in this region is the best known and official of Spain. For its celebration are lit bonfires of enormous dimensions known as the fogueres of San Joan, accompanied by firecrackers that are sent to the sky in an act of homage to the greatness of the fire. The festival ends with the burning of the bonfires, after which feet are introducted into the water.


The festival of San Juan de Cataluña, especially Barcelona, revolves around the popular festivals of the city. In it, bonfires are lit in the streets at the same time as fireworks are launched.


The night of San Juan in Andalucía is also known  as “La Noche de Brujas” in which is carried out the burning of two dummies called “Juan and Juana”. After the burn people wash their face with sea water as a way to preserve beauty and no one should look in the mirror after washing for the spell to be effective.


Every June 23, Vespers of San Juan takes place a curious ritual in this locality Soriana. It is a ritual of remote origin that begins at nine o’clock at night when a bonfire is lit with two thousand kilos of oak wood to later prepare a path of embers forming a carpet. It is the ritual of the passage of fire.

The young people dance around the bonfire and at twelve o’clock at night, the magic hour, twelve neighbors of the town carrying someone on the shoulders, traverse bare feet, the path of embers without burning. It is said that only those born in the place can perform this feat without burning. It is said that only those born in the place can perform this feat without burning.

En Latinoamérica the festivity revolves around a popular legend rooted in the origins of Christianity that says that in San Juan el Diablo is on the loose and the lands are blessed by Juan el Bautista. People wash their faces like a protection route repeating “San Juan, San Juan, dame milcao, yo te daré pan”. In some countries certain superstitions are maintained, such as seeing a black cat after San Juan  or taking 7 laps around the house can bring bad luck.

In short, the interpretations of this festivity are endless and the festival has had many variants throughout history and depending on the culture. Even many foreign students may sound this tradition with some native of their countries, but with a different name, but we have already seen how many variants this festival has had throughout the world, albeit with different names and rituals, although almost all in relation to fire and water. So, whether you are from the country or the culture that you are, if you want to enjoy this party or to know more about it personally, you just have to visit any place in Spain to spend a night warming you with the fire of your bonfires and eating a good pescaíto Fried which is always appreciated, it’s not nececessary to say that it is also an excellent opportunity to meet new people and see in person as Spaniards live their own traditions.

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