The Feast of St John – Fireworks and Bonfires

The evening of 23 June is known as St John’s Eve, celebrating the night before the saint’s supposed birthday. It coincides with the summer solstice and is a major part of the festive calendar in many parts of Spain, particularly Galicia, the Basque country, Valencia and here in Catalonia. If you are anywhere near a St John’s Street then the festivities are likely to begin a few days beforehand. In Mataró there has been a 4 day programme of events on Carrer Sant Joan and we have been lucky enough to catch some of the wild celebrations.

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On Saturday night we made our way over to the area where the Castellers (human towers) were performing. Once again it was a breathtaking sight. Surely I can’t be the only one who gets nervous watching a 5-year-old girl climb up six levels of human bodies to stand atop with one arm raised to the sky. It’s always a privilege to see these brave troops continuing this intriguing Catalan tradition.

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The most extraordinary things are held for the night of the feast though. At the top end of Carrer Sant Joan there is a cobbled street which leads up into the medieval centre of Mataró. We stood at the side to watch the parade of witches go by with their torches and fireworks. Then we fell into line behind the loud drummers and followed them down the road.

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About halfway down the witches were joined by tall costumed figures representing the sun and the moon. The procession then squeezed down  the narrow road, made even narrower by the tables from the earlier street party, some of which were still full of partying locals with their cava (the Catalan version of champagne but so much nicer!) and pastel de coca (a rich cake topped with jellied fruit and glazed with sugar). It would have been so tempting to reach over and grab a slice but I’m not sure that would have been correct etiquette!

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The witches and their entourage were slowly making their way towards a bonfire which had been constructed close to the seafront. We (along with quite a few others) took a short-cut down the sidestreets to get to the pile of wood before the witches arrived and burned it all. Actually, it was much more than just a pile of wood. There was a wooden boat in the middle of it and a large effigy of a witch. It’s hard not to draw comparisons to the British Guy Fawkes’ Night.

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Once in position, a massive and deafening firework display began with the watching crowd showered in sparks and ash. British health and safety experts would be having nightmares about this!! After the fireworks the witches danced around the bonfire as it was lit. Soon flames leapt into the sky and the crowd gradually dissipated.

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We made our way towards the beach along with hundreds of others. With a couple of beers in a cool-bag we then sat and watched the revellers on the sand. There were some amazing firework displays all around us, and even some brave souls practising their fire breathing! The atmosphere was calm and everyone was having fun. Tradition says that you should jump over one of the small bonfires to banish any bad luck you have suffered over the previous year. The large fire was still burning so we missed out on the chance to do that, but as we made our way home the street parties were still in full swing.

Oh, and the fireworks went on throughout the night!!

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