What is San Juan Festivals

What is San Juan Festivals

In Spain, Midsummer has remained a very popular holiday that celebrates the longest day of the year and the summer solstice. With Christian, pagan and Iberian roots, San Juan is celebrated throughout the country on the night of June 23 to 24 with, in particular, bonfires.
It is in Alicante that the San Juan festivals are the most impressive: they are the Hogueras de San Juan. In Madrid, the festivities take place at the Plaza de San Juan and Las Huertas…and begin the evening before! In Barcelona and throughout Catalonia, we party on the beach until the end of the night…
Bonfires are the theme of the night. Men and women, young people and children all spend time building these bonfires. According to tradition, if people jump over a bonfire three times on San Juan’s night, they will be cleansed and purified, and their problems burned away.
In Andalucia, San Juan is celebrated on the night of June 23rd with some towns, such as Almuñécar, in Granada, allowing the beaches to be used as campsites for a single night. On the beaches of Malaga it’s common to see people jumping over fires which, according to legend, cleanse the body and the soul. Jumping in the sea at midnight is supposed to be a way to wash away evil spirits.

It is ritual that rules at San Juan. After midnight, for example, people wash their faces and feet three times in order to be granted three wishes and for a happy twelve months thereafter. Bathing at this time is also said to be beneficial for skin complaints. Traditionally, the Spanish did not visit the beach until this day in each year. The sight of hundreds and even thousands of people wandering into the water after midnight with the haze of bonfires everywhere can be close to awe inspiring.

As well as the bonfires that burn continuously, there are also muñecos or dolls that are burnt. This is usually done around midnight. Originally, the effigies were supposed to represent Judas Iscariot but now, the religious relevance seems to have become secondary to the enjoyment factor.


In Estepona there has been a competition since the 1970’s called ‘Quemando los Bigotes de San Juan’ (Burning the moustache of San Juan) the moustache is a euphanism for ‘bad people’ since bandeleros (bandits) often had moustaches.  Quite often the dolls are made up to represent local, national or international personalities who are infamous. Some of the effigies can be quite elaborate. The winning entries are ritually burned on the beach just after midninght. The burning of these effigies is supposed to bring good luck but quite often, it is just good fun and it makes a great spectacle.  The best place to join the festivitites in Estepona is La Rada Beach near the centre of the old town. A stage is set up for a free concert in the evening.

In Malaga, for example, as well as in lots of other spots in Spain, some people make wishes when midnight comes around on the night of the fiesta of San Juan. They write down their wishes for the months ahead and the things that they want to say goodbye to on the night of San Juan on pieces of paper.

They then burn them in the bonfires of St John, symbolising liberation from the past and hope for the future. After that, they run into the sea for a swim, picturing those wishes coming true.

Wherever you are, the rituals linked to San Juan in Spain are all to do with fire and water. People might burn something old to represent a new start, swim in the ocean to purify their soul, or drink from fountains, which some believe take on magical healing properties on the night.

✅What to take with you for a San Juan party

If you’re celebrating on a beach that has bars and restaurants, then they’ll be open and selling food and drinks throughout the evening, so you don’t need to come very prepared.

You will, however, need your swimming costume and a towel. Make sure to take a warm layer with you, as although Spanish nights are typically very warm by this time of year, you’d be surprised at how chilly it can get on the coast.

If you’re heading outside the city, then you won’t be able to rely on beach bars or ready-made bonfires, so you’ll need your own supplies of food, drink, firewood and music.

Wherever you’re going to spend the night of San Juan in Spain, make sure you bring along bags that you can put all your rubbish in, so that you can recycle it later, as there have been big problems with plastic waste from the festivities being washed out to sea.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *