My favourite place in the Girona regions? Ask me an easier question, please.
The night of 23 June, St John's Eve, is a night of celebration in all the towns of the Costa Brava and the Girona Pyrenees, where, as in the rest of the Catalan-speaking regions, people come together for one of the most magical and joyful popular festivals of the year, with fire as the star of the show.
“Lighting of the bonfire. Al fresco dinner with coca and cava. Live music and dancing in the town square”. The posters advertising the Sant Joan festival may vary slightly from one town to another and from one year to another but the premise is the same, with people gathering to celebrate the arrival of summer in one of the region’s most long-standing pagan festivals.
Rituals and symbology around fire
Many cultures around the world have held festivals in honour of the Sun since ancient times. The summer solstice, when the star reaches its highest point, temperatures rise and the days get longer, is the ideal time for a celebration of high spirits and life. The ritual of singing and dancing around a bonfire is loaded with symbolism. Fire purifies everything and, on Sant John’s Eve, it is topped off by the lights, colour and noise of fireworks.
Over time, many other festive elements have also been added. The tradition of swimming in the sea at night has become part of the celebrations in towns along the Costa Brava as an uplifting and purifying activity to welcome the summer.
It is also customary to collect medicinal herbs on the eve and morning of Sant Joan, which is when they are thought to be at their most potent. Elements of a magical night. The herbs are used to make home remedies, liqueurs and other products, or are dried for use during the winter.
United by the Canigó Flame
The Canigó Flame, one of the great symbols of Catalan identity is a tradition that signifies unity among Catalan-speaking regions. Every 22 June, a flame that is kept alight throughout the year at the Castellet in Perpignan, is carried up to the 2,800-metre summit of Canigó, where a bonfire is lit that serves as the source for many others.
A large number of volunteers are responsible for carrying the burning torches to the top of Canigó and then on to hundreds of towns across Catalonia, the Valencian Community and Mallorca. It is an exciting relay that extends across different routes to transport the flame to more than 400 municipalities, where it is welcomed with full honours before being used to light the corresponding Sant Joan bonfires.
Coca and cava, a treat not to be missed
All the traditional Sant Joan communal dinners enjoyed in the towns and villages are topped off with a sweet dessert: the typical Coca de Sant Joan. It is believed that the tradition of eating coca at the summer solstice is linked to the worship of the Sun, which could explain the rounded shape of the tortells d’ou (egg cakes) that were eaten in the past.
Cocas come in many varieties, although the most popular is a brioche sweetbread topped with pastry cream and candied fruit. It is usually accompanied by sweet or “rancio” wine, although, when it comes to coming together to see in the summer, there really is nothing better than raising a toast with a glass of cava.