San Juan

Goats, horses and fire: the weird ways Spain usually celebrates San Juan

Goats, horses and fire: the weird ways Spain usually celebrates San Juan
A horse rears in a crowd in the Menorcan town of Ciutadella as part of the usual Sant Joan celebrations. Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP
Nobody celebrates festivities with quite the same flair and diversity as Spain, and Saint John's Eve is no exception.

Saint John’s Eve or the feast of Saint John, known as El Día San Juan in Spain, is a celebration that usually involves elements of fire, dancing and some debatable treatment of animals.

In Spain Saint John’s Eve is either celebrated on June 23rd or 24th, but it falls close to the summer solstice on June 21st and bears some resemblance to Midsummer celebrations in Scandinavia and other northern countries. In simple terms, Spain’s Día San Juan was born from the Christianisation of the pagan ritual of celebrating the summer solstice. 

Whether it be effigy burning, dousing each other with water, or touching the belly of a prancing stallion, midsummer revelries take place from coast to coast and are some of the most popular fiestas in all of Spain.

This year and the last however, festivities have been cancelled as a result of the pandemic and many municipalities will cordon off their beaches to prevent partygoers from gathering.

But in a normal year, townsfolk in coastal areas of Spain usually head to the beach for a night of revelry around huge bonfires, with dancing, drinking and feasting often culminating in a midnight dip in the ocean.

Photo: José Jordan/AFP

In Alicante elaborate effigies are paraded through the town before being thrown into the flames while the streets pulsate with music, dancing and firecrackers.

Photo: Jose Jordán/AFP

Menorca has a strange tradition which sees horses parading through the crowds to dance and prance while onlookers attempt to touch the equine’s belly, a feat that ensures good luck for the year.

Photo: Jaime Reina/AFP

In Catalonia, the Sant Joan parties are held on the night of June 23rd. The following day is also a public holiday, which residents usually need to recover from the night before. The firework explosions begin at least a week beforehand as everyone readies themselves for the big night. On the night itself, crowds gather on beaches to set off and watch spectacular firework displays, whilst eating coca (a local type of sweet bread) and drinking cava. 

Photo: JOSE LUIS ROCA / AFP

Revellers in Lanjarón, in the Alpujarras area south of Granada, choose to celebrate midsummer with an almighty water fight when residents use every receptacle at hand – hoses, buckets, water pistols – to drench each other. 

In the Pyrenean town of Isil near Lleida (Catalonia), residents mark Sant Joan by zigzagging from mountain top to town square carrying burning branches. After a huge bonfire, townsfolk dance until dawn.


Las Falles in Isil involve a lot of burning log carrying. Photo: Andres Merizalde / Flickr

In the Tenerife town of Puerto de la Cruz, goats take centre stage during the celebration of the Baño de las Cabras. Goat herders bring their flock to the beach and the bleating animals are (somewhat reluctantly) dunked into the waves. The event has its origins in an aboriginal ritual celebrated by the Guanches – the original Canary islanders – to mark the summer solstice.

 Photo: Desiree Martín/AFP

In the Basque village of Bakio, evil spirits are banished by “Zanpanzar” who stomp to the rhythm of giant cowbells.

Photo: Rafa Rivas/AFP

While in San Pedro Manrique in Soria province (north-central Spain), the midsummer ritual involves men walking barefoot over hot coals without burning their feet… Oh, and with the added challenge (and weight) of carrying a woman on their back.

Wherever you are in Spain, Happy San Juan!

READ MORE: 

El Colacho: Is this Spain’s most bizarre festival?


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