Fire runs, fireworks, beach parties and outdoor concerts, the Catalans know how to celebrate Saint John’s Eve.
I must have drifted off to sleep at some point as when I awoke it was peaceful again, after creating memories of the fiestas of Sant Joan that will stay with me for a lifetime.
Driving around the villages on the banks of the Ebro river I could see they were preparing for something special. Each place had a pile forming that reminded me of my childhood, walking home from school and watching the mounds of wood and garden waste rising ahead of bonfire night. A night celebrated across the United Kingdom to remember Guy Fawkes and his attempts to blow up the Houses of Parliament in 1605. Only this was June, in Spain and these piles were for the celebrations of Sant Joan, celebrated throughout the night of the 23rd it is the eve of the feast of Saint John the Baptist. It was visible that the children of these villages held the same anticipation, as their night to light the bonfire and watch an array of fireworks light the sky over the river drew near.
I spent the night of Sant Joan in Salou, the capital of the Costa Dorada, where the celebrations began as the sun started to set.
The fire runs were the first feature of what was to be a long but fun night. Groups of firework holders dressed as devils and witches energetically danced and jumped along the spectacular seafront promenade. Running parallel to the main beach, the Playa Levante, the promenade displays historical statues, themed paving, lush palm trees and stunning fountains.
Crowds gathered and walked with the fire holders and drummers until reaching the Plaça de les Comunitats Autónomes. There the devils and witches moved closer around each other in a series of dazzling dances, circled by the drummers who were both children and adults. The fire holders showed the passion they had for this traditional Catalan display and relit their fire forks over and over again, even introducing ‘la morena’ a 9-metre long fish that moves with people walking underneath it and shoots out spiralling fireworks from its sides.
Fire batons were then lit as the crowds waited for the message of Sant Joan to be read from the nearby stage, followed by a display of Sardana dancing and the lighting of the main fires.
Salou had three fires that could seen burning on the soft golden beaches that give the Costa Dorada its name. As they were lit each fire was accompanied by an impressive firework display, all three of them synchronised, lighting up the sky and reflecting over the sea.
The firework displays were romantic and mesmerising.
The end of the display meant by no means that it was the end of the festivities. The fires were left to slowly burn themselves out and groups of people found their spots to settle on the beach, some with tents and barbecues, many with their own fireworks.
The night was warm and still, people bathed in the sea and danced on the sand. The square that had staged the fire dancers became an outdoor music concert which could be heard across the beach. The beach bar chiringuitos remained open, adding to the ambience.
I’ve previously heard at some point that the Spanish people sleep the least of all Europeans. This seemed to be true, as the holiday makers dispersed back to their hotels the festivities went on throughout the night with the noise of people, music and an almost constant banging of fireworks.
By the morning as some were waking up, the town was quiet once again. A holiday day that many would spend resting and eating with friends and family. The evening saw the promenade and beach alive again but with couples and families taking an evening walk, letting off any remaining fireworks and enjoying the new impressive water fountain display synchronised to the powerful music of Andrea Bocelli’s Time to Say Goodbye.