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The magical night of Sant Joan

On June 23, Catalans celebrate the Revetlla de Sant Joan, the Catalan midsummer night festival. Sant Joan is one of the most enjoyable holidays in Catalonia and definitely one of my favorites. It’s the shortest night of the year. Summer is welcomed with fireworks displays, magical symbols, and legends. It’s a night full of fireworks, partying, and music.

When is Sant Joan?

On June 23, Catalans celebrate the Revetlla de Sant Joan, the Catalan midsummer night festival. This feast is known for its food and beautiful fireworks.

The festivities for Sant Joan (or Saint John) begin on June 23, though the actual day falls on June 24. Around these days in June, the weather is usually nice and schoolchildren have already started their summer vacation. You can tell it’s almost Sant Joan because kids have been setting off fireworks in the streets for weeks. June 24 is a holiday in Catalonia, and people are off work after partying all night.

Catalan Midsummer Night Festival

Sant Joan marks the summer solstice night, when the sun reaches its highest point and then begins to wane. The Sant Joan festival honors the king of the stars as a symbol of fertility and prosperity with bonfires. Besides the delicious coques (cakes), fire, water, and fresh herbs symbolize Sant Joan.

Fireworks

During ‘la revetlla de Sant Joan‘ or ‘nit de Sant Joan‘ on June 23, the Saint John’s festival is celebrated. This festivity prominently features fire: everyone sets off fireworks in the streets, there are fireworks displays on the beach, and bonfires are lit.

Traditionally, fire is the purifying element that frees us from misfortune and wards off evil spirits. On the night of Sant Joan, people feed the fire with old furniture. Students even throw their schoolbooks from the completed year into it.

The most popular fire in Catalonia is the Flame of Canigó, which travels to all Catalan towns and villages each year to ignite the bonfires.

Fireworks during Sant Joan
Fireworks during Sant Joan

Water

Taking a dip in the sea during the night of Sant Joan is also typical. It’s said that on this evening the water has healing powers. In some places, it’s customary to bathe in the sea at dawn.

Fresh Herbs

Herbs are the third magical element of the midsummer evening. It’s a night when the healing powers of plants, flowers, trees, and especially herbs are extraordinarily potent. Some herbs, like thyme, rosemary, or verbena, the herb of Sant Joan, are traditionally gathered on this evening for treatments.

Coques and Cava

Furthermore, on this balmy summer evening, ‘coca de Sant Joan‘ (a special cake with candied fruit and pine nuts) is eaten, and a lot of cava is drunk. After the festive dinner, youngsters usually go out to open-air discos or to the beach.

Coca de Sant Joan
Coca de Sant Joan

Celebrating Sant Joan in Barcelona

Sant Joan is celebrated throughout Catalonia, so it doesn’t matter where you are because you’ll find fireworks and music everywhere. Many Barcelonians celebrate Sant Joan outside the city, in their summer homes on the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada. But also in the beach towns near Barcelona, like Castelldefels and Sitges, it’s extra busy during Sant Joan.

If you happen to be in Barcelona or anywhere in Catalonia during the night of Sant Joan, I recommend spending the evening on the beach and experiencing all the revetlles and verbenas (festivals), the fireworks, and the bonfires. That’s actually the ultimate feeling of ‘la nit màgica de Sant Joan‘ (the magical evening of Saint John).

For Barcelona, the city council has created a special website with all the information and the program of the festivities. Below are my recommendations.

June 23: Revetlla de Sant Joan

6:00 PM – Flame of Canigó

On June 23 at 5:45 PM, the flame of the Canigó arrives at the town hall in Barcelona. It is then honored with various ceremonies. At 6:00 PM, the flame is brought to Plaça Sant Jaume, flanked by the giants and the eagle of Barcelona. The flame is then taken to different neighborhoods in the city, where it will ignite the large fires.

8:00 PM – Festival of Sant Joan

There are many neighborhood parties and free concerts on the evening of Sant Joan. Residents then dine together outside on long tables, with lots of fireworks, bonfires, and dancing. If you want to experience this, go to Passeig de Lluís Companys, for example, where there will be a communal dinner, concerts, and a large bonfire.

One of the best places to experience the night of Sant Joan in Barcelona is, of course, the beach. Large groups of friends always gather at La Barceloneta and hold real beach parties.

Bonfires during Sant Joan in Barcelona
Bonfires during Sant Joan in Barcelona

June 24: Sant Joan

10:00 AM – Eat Coca de Sant Joan

Go to the local bakery and get a coca de Sant Joan! They come in various flavors and forms: with marzipan, cream, cabell d’àngel (angel hair) or llardons (pork cracklings), and decorated with pine nuts or candied fruit peel. Delicious as breakfast or a snack.

11:00 AM – Enjoy your day off

June 24 is a holiday in Catalonia, so people are off work. Enjoy this day off at the beach like the locals do, or outdoors, in one of the many parks in Barcelona.

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Hello! My name is Marta, and I am a born and raised Barcelonian. I love introducing people to Barcelona, especially the Barcelona known to locals. In Barcelona, I am always looking for fun places and tips that I can then share with you, with the goal of helping you experience Barcelona like a local.

Marta Rubio

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