La Noche de San Juan: What is Spain’s midsummer celebration all about?

SPAIN’S San Juan festival has its roots in a pagan celebration that takes place every year to mark the start of summer. Fire and water, purification and rejuvenation, turning away from the past and looking forward to the future: This is what the Night of San Juan is all about.

The feast of San Juan, or St John in English, falls on June 24 every year, but it’s on St John’s eve, June 23 that the celebrations take place.

Given the significance of water during these celebrations, many of the festivities take place in coastal cities and towns of Spain.

On the beaches, bonfires are lit to ward off evil spirits and traditionally people are expected to jump over the fire three times to ensure good luck.

Jumping over fire at San Juan by Angel / Flickr

With the start of summer, new beginnings are central to this festival – out with the old and in with the new.

Many people write down the things they want to leave behind as well as their wishes for the year ahead. These pieces of paper are then burned on the fire.

The burning of the effigies, or of the the sun, is also highly symbolic on the night of San Juan. Originally, the statues of Judas would be burned. However, over time this tradition has broadened to statues of evil things that the world wants rid of.

Following two years of San Juan celebrations being canceled in Malaga (one of the most popular destinations for the festival’s celebrations), the significance of the effigy is more important than ever.

This year artist Fernando Wilson was chosen to design the the sun with a focus on war in Ukraine. In a recent interview, he stated that the burning of this will represent the burning of human evil in the world.

At midnight on the Night of San Juan, it is a tradition for everyone to run into the sea. This is a sort of cleansing ritual which is believed to wash away evil spirits. Some people will also wash their face and feet three times in order to be granted three wishes.

Whether you are joining in with the festivities of San Juan or not, there is something we can all take from San Juan. It is a period of reflection, thinking about what we want to leave in the past and what we want to take with us to the future as summer commences.


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