By Ombretta Di Dio
Every year, on the 23rd of June, Barcelona shines with bright and flaming colors, as Saint John (Sant Joan, in Catalan) passes through the streets of the city. All of the districts and beaches of Barça are illuminated by tons of bonfires to celebrate the longest day of the year, which also happens to introduce the prolific summer season.
The fire that keeps the city alive all night has a meaning that goes back to 1955, when the first flame was lit on the Canigò mountain, symbolizing the Catalan culture of the people from Spain and France. That holy flame is kept constantly alive and is used, when the sun disappears on the 23rd of June, to animate the bonfires that can be admired in the Catalan regions. “La Flama Del Canigò” (The Flame of Canigò) is offered to the Parliament of Catalonia by volunteers who cross the country to preserve the holy fire and to make sure every bonfire receives it.
Anybody can keep the bonfires alive and, by doing so, get purified and cleansed of bad luck and sins. An ancient Catalan saying indeed goes: "Qui encén foc per Sant Joan no es crema en tot l'any." This means, "He who lights the fire for Sant Joan will not burn all year." People usually write notes of what they wish for and throw them in the fire, proceeding to jump three times over the fire to make the wish come true.
A safer tradition consists in swimming in any kind of water on the Nit of Sant Joan, because this element is as important as fire. Water will make you free from any kind of illness or pain. You can go for a swim in a lake, in the sea, or simply wash your face on the morning of the 24th and your body will be enriched with health and wellness. During the celebrations on the beach, thousands of people will night-swim and indulge on the sand until the first lights of the morning.
Thyme, Rosemary, and Verbena are the herbs that symbolize Sant Joan; apparently their curative powers become stronger and almost miraculous during that magic night, and whoever feels like getting embraced by their aphrodisiac properties will normally eat and smell those herbs.
Lastly, if you need to satisfy your palate as the fireworks, the bonfires, and the celebrations go on, you can try the traditional food of Sant Joan: the “Coca”, a delicious and sweet bread filled with any kind of candied fruit or with the famous Catalan cream that can be found in any bakery around town.