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Brexit and bonfires – how will you be celebrating the night of San Juan?

A guide to the festivities for the shortest night of the year, including a novel idea for Spain’s British expats

Today, Friday June 23, brings the night of San Juan, a fiesta associated with fire, water, and – this is Spain, after all – food. Considered to be the Christian version of the summer solstice celebration in the northern hemisphere, the fiesta is celebrated at midnight on June 23, when, according to the Bible, San Juan Bautista – or John the Baptist – was born. His father instructed a fire to be lit to announce his birth, and that tradition is still respected in many areas of Spain – above all those with Celtic traditions, such as Asturias, but also on the Mediterranean coast, with Alicante perhaps the most famous.

Noche de San Juan 2017
Artists put the finishing touches to the San Juan figures in Alicante. EFE

This year, however, San Juan has taken on a new meaning for the British community in Spain. Today is the first anniversary of the Brexit vote, a referendum held in the United Kingdom to decide whether the country should leave the European Union. Much to the dismay of many of those Britons currently living in Europe, the “yes” vote won, and since then expatriate groups have sprung up across Spain in a bid to campaign against Brexit and to fight for the rights of Britons in their adopted country once the UK leaves the EU.

British communities have chosen today as a day to “dispose of unwanted baggage, as is the San Juan custom”

As such, British communities have chosen today as a day to “dispose of unwanted baggage, as is the San Juan custom,” in the words of Sue Wilson, the chair of Bremain in Spain. “It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that we’re not playing golf, bowls or bridge, or whiling away hours in English bars festooned with Union Jacks,” she writes on the group’s website. “Instead, we’ll be celebrating with the Spanish, as we do every year, and enjoying being treated like family by our wonderful neighbors.”

The group is encouraging its members and expats across the country to share photos of how they are enjoying “a traditional San Juan with Spanish friends,” which will then be updated to the photo gallery on their website.

A man jumps over a bonfire on the Malvarrosa beach in Valencia, on San Juan night in 2016.
A man jumps over a bonfire on the Malvarrosa beach in Valencia, on San Juan night in 2016. EFE

For those looking for where best to celebrate San Juan, here’s a cross-country guide:

Alicante. This year will see the biggest San Juan bonfires in the city yet, with more than a million people expected to attend. The fiestas in Alicante began on June 2 with firecrackers and parades. Nine bonfires – adorned with papier maché figures, similar to those seen at Valencia’s famed Fallas fiestas – will be vying this year to take the top prize on Saturday night for best design.

Barcelona. In the Catalan capital a total of 27 bonfires will go up in flames on the Nit de Sant Joan, as the fiestas are known. The blazes will be accompanied by orchestras, fireworks and dances on the shortest night of the year. La Barceloneta is one of the most popular areas, and, along with the Eixample neighborhood, will feature a correfoc – literally a “fire-run,” when individuals dressed as devils set off fireworks to the beat of drums.

In the Catalan capital a total of 27 bonfires will go up in flames on the Nit de Sant Joan

Granada. The fiestas kicked off on Thursday and will run until Sunday with a number of activities that will make up the first edition of the celebrations since four people were killed in a fire that broke out in a bar. City Hall is hoping to bring together more than 10,000 people on Friday night as part of its famous Carrera del Agua (water race), which will, for the first time, limit entrants.

Almería. Any beach on the Almería coast is a meeting point during San Juan. Bonfires, barbecues and nighttime dips are the order of the day. Proceedings get going at 10pm on the capital’s beaches, with fireworks from the breakwater at La Térmica just before midnight, and 33 different places to eat and have fun at the El Palmeral venue. In Cabo de Gata and Mojácar, meanwhile, there will be a concert from La Blue Band at 9.30pm, a bonfire especially for kids at 10pm, and fireworks on the Descargador beach.

Malaga. From Nerja to Manilva, Torremolinos to Marbella, there will be parties all across the Malaga coast. Thousands of locals will be turning out to set up their special moragas – a kind of barbecue with skewered sardines – while at midnight the large figurines known as júas will go up in flames. Fireworks will be let off from the Térmica breakwater.

Technicians prepare the ‘mascletà’ fire-cracker display in Alicante.
Technicians prepare the ‘mascletà’ fire-cracker display in Alicante.

Cadiz. The Fiesta de los Juanillos, as the celebrations are known, will see rag dolls go up in smoke to symbolize the start of summer. This year will see 14 juanillos compete against one another, and the curious can find them in the different neighborhoods of the city. The party will start at 6.30pm in the Puntales neighborhood, and culminate with fireworks from the Santa Catalina castle – Caleta beach is the perfect vantage point.

Mieres, Asturias. Las Fiestes de San Xuan kicked off with the detonation of a massive firework known as the barrenazu. There will be concerts on Saturday night in the Jovellanos park, including an appearance by Spanish pop favorite Chenoa at 1am. There will be fireworks at 11.15pm, while the bonfire will be lit at midnight. There will also be bagpipe bands, DJs spinning Asturian music, orchestras, storytelling and traditional dance workshops – all on the esplanade by the San Juan church.

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