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Saint John's Eve

Symbolic Elements

A Night Full of Magic

Other Traditions

The night of June 23rd [in Austria it is the 24th], or Sant Joan as it is known in our country [Catalu~na - Spain], is a huge celebration, without a doubt one of the most traditional and popular among the holidays celebrated there. Since ancient times, just at the arrival of the summer solstice on the evening of June 21st, people have welcomed in the warmer weather with celebrations of fire, the ritual flames consuming all as a sign of rebirth and renewed life. 

The origins of the celebration are indeed ancient; however they are also equally mysterious. There are some who believe it goes back to the Neolithic Age, when pagan celebrations were held to give strength to the sun god and thank him for the year's harvest. One important aspect of the summer solstice is that it marks the longest day of the year and is therefore followed by the shortest night, so from that moment forward, the daylight hours begin to wane. 

Over time, this so-called pagan tradition became christianized by the Church of Rome, who had it coincide with the anniversary of the birth of Saint John the Baptist. This adaptation to Christian ritual occurred in the 5th century of the Christian era. 

Although varying in specific regional traditions, the celebration has remained constant to the verve and popularity for which it became known, bringing together communities and groups of families and friends to participate in the annual holiday. For centuries now, places near and far all over the European continent have glowed luminously with fire, one of the most essential, yet one of many equally important elements associated with this celebration. 

As it happens, it is in our country where the evening celebrations of Saint John have remained true with the passing centuries, being celebrated with particular intensity in its towns and cities. Traditions such as Les Falles d'Isil in the Catalan PyreneesLa Crema deth Haro in the Vall d'Aran, the unique celebrations held inCiutadella and the Fogueres in Alacant, all intensified with the arrival of the flame from El Canigó, symbolizing the united cultural identity of Catalan-speaking lands. 
  • ! Actualització el 24/06/2003 a les 13:14


Fire is the most fundamental element associated with the Saint John's Eve celebration.
Fire is the most fundamental element associated with the Saint John's Eve celebration, as since ancient times it has symbolized renewal and the giving of thanks for bountiful harvests. However it isn't the only symbolic element, as there are many more. One other element is water: a magic and purifying element which is inevitably linked to the Christianization of the celebration. Saint John, according to Christian tradition, was the hermit who baptized Jesus in the waters of the Jordan river. You will find as you read ahead that the magical properties that have been popularly attributed to water on Saint John's Day are endless, which is in sharp contrast to the Catholic Church strictly forbidding contact with water or even washing oneself on Saint John's Day. Lastly, one other important element worth mentioning belongs to theplant kingdom: the group of plants known in our country as 'Saint John's herbs', which include Saint John's Wort, Carline thistle, vervain, lavender, thyme…all these plants are in full flower at this time of year, and are known for their healing properties, particularly during the celebrations held on Saint John's Eve.


The word 'verbena' comes from the Catalan name for the vervain plant.
As we previously mentioned, in our country, Saint John's Eve is one of, if not the most magical of all nights. A myriad of rituals associated with fire and water have been passed down over the ages that still exist today. There are traditions such as leaping over the bonfires to free oneself from sicknesses and bad omens; or the healing properties associated with the morning dew and a wide variety of summer herbs and plants that cause warts, herpes and skin diseases to disappear, while at the same time bringing good luck and fortune. Besides, according to the tradition, Saint John's Eve is the night when the wishes of those in love are brought into being by way of ancient spells and incantations. Also a number of rituals to enhance fertility abound on this day. And to top things off, witches gather and plot a myriad of twisted events, as well as share rituals using magic potions known only unto them. As you can see, there is no lack of magical elements associated with Saint John's Eve.


'Coca de Sant Joan' is eaten on Saint John's Eve.
Saint John's Eve and the following day of the Feast of Saint John the Baptist are full of ancient traditions, some of which we have already mentioned. Obviously the celebration held on the night before the Saint's Day, also known as the 'verbena' is the most popular. People build and burnbonfires, light firecrackers right and left and make use of all sorts of fireworks, while also decoration their balconies, squares and are out on the town until the wee hours of the morning. One other tradition that finds its origin in ancient times are the 'ordalies', or a sort of trial by ordeal, consisting of a ritual closely linked to the young unmarried women living in rural areas. In order to predict the identity of their future husband, they follow such rituals as breaking an egg into a container full of water. The young women use the shape taken by the egg white to sense what tools their future husband will use to work the land. As regards gastronomy,traditional foods eaten on this day were ring-shaped cakes made using eggs, gradually popularized into the tasty fruit and suit 'coca' pastries eaten today. There are even cocas filled with creams and 'cabell d'àngel' (a sweet pumpkin filling). Common beverages include 'vi ranci', literally 'rancid' wine, as well as sweet wines, popularized by the Catalan cava consumed today.

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St John's Eve

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The evening of June 23, St John's Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist. The Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:36, 56–57) states that John was born about six months before Jesus, therefore the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on June 21~24, six months before Christmas. This feast day is one of the very few saints' days to mark the supposed anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint commemorated.

The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24, but, in some countries, festivities are celebrated the night before, on St John's Eve. The feast is celebrated in various 


Brazil has the largest St John's festivities in the globe, ("Festas Juninas") with parties all over the country. The Northeastern region of Brazil concentrates the most elaborated parties, more specifically in the cities of Caruaru-Pernambuco, Campina Grande-Paraiba, Salvador-Bahia and in smaller cities like Cruz das Almas, Ibicui, Jequie and Ilheus also in Bahia. In Campina Grande and Caruaru, the festivities are approximately 30 days long.
In the evening on June 23, Catholics all over Brazil light a big fire, symbolizing a Catholic tale: During a conversation, John's mother, Elizabeth, agreed to light a big fire to notify her cousin Mary (mother of Jesus) that she had given birth, that she might get post-partum assistance from her cousin.

Baltic Sea region

The feast day of Saint John the Baptist was a very popular event in the ancien régime of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Similar festivities take place in Scandinavia. Bonfires are lit and effigees burned on the evening of June 23. People jump over the bonfires to prove their courage. Traditionally, three jumps cleanses one from sin and disease. One of the centers of the festival is in Ciutadella; but many different cities and towns have their own unique traditions associated with the festival. In recent years, public celebrations have begun cordoning off the fires for safety reasons.

In Poland the festival is known as 'sobótki'. Traditional folk rituals include groups of young men and women singing ritual songs to each other. The young women may wear crowns fashioned from wild flowers, which are later thrown into a nearby pond or lake. The boys/young men may then swim out to claim one of the crowns. Bonfires (and bonfire jumping) are also part of the proceedings.

In Latvia the festival is known as Līgo vakars (lit. Sway Eve) or Jāņu vakars (lit. John's Eve).



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