Living in the 21st century, you can sometimes feel like magic has disappeared, but there are still moments when people celebrate something bigger than themselves. Sometimes it’s a celebration of family and friends, and sometimes it’s something as simple as the longest day in the year!
On the night between 23rd and 24th Madrid and surrounding cities celebrate San Juan Festival. Although the spread of Christianism transformed this celebration into a religious one, the festival has much older origins. This pagan tradition is centered on the Fires that are built and have the purpose of burning away old and unnecessary objects and energies. People can write on papers the name of those they wish to forget, as well as throw into the fire old clothes or objects that have a connection with something from the past they wish to let go.
As it is the case with many such celebrations, there are many superstitions surrounding this night: it is believes that the water of springs and wells have healing powers on this night, that people who wake up early on the morning on 24th of June will not get a lot of sleep the following year, that women can look out the window and see their chosen ones passing by their houses. It is also believed that people who bathe naked in the sea and look at the moon can perform miracles.
The San Juan Festival coincides with the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, a day which has been celebrated by world cultures for as long as history books can remember. For many it was a celebration of summer and an opportunity to ask for wealthy crops for the coming autumn.
Although this year I participated in the Spanish celebration of San Juan, I know that variation of this festival can be found all over the world. In Romania we celebrate on the night f 24th of June the night of Sanziene, a night of celebrating summer and magic. Women dressed in white and with crowns made of bright yellow flowers dance around bonfires and it is believed that fairies are free to roam the earth. There are places, such as forests, where it is believes that the wall between the living and the dead is open, and supernatural event take place.
In Alcobendas, the small city close to Madrid where I live, the San Juan festival was marked by bonfires, a procession of characters dressed in Celtic costumes and makeup, holding lighted candles. The party was further maintained by a Gallic singing group called Milladoiro. They sung Celtic music until the very light hours in the night.
It came as no surprise that Spain, with its taste for parties, embraced and adapted a century’s old pagan celebration into a festival that brings together antique traditions with music and laughter.