The Night of San Juan in Valencia is celebrated on the evening of June 23rd as tens of thousands of people gather on the beach to build bonfires and welcome the arrival of summer.
Considered one of the most spectacular festivities in Valencia, the Night of San Juan is shrouded in superstitions and mind-boggling rituals. Yet, for the modern, skeptical mind, it’s an opportunity to have a good time surrounded by family and friends and sing and dance on the beach until dawn.
Origins of the Night of San Juan
The Night of San Juan (aka “La Noche de San Juan“) has its roots in the ancient pagan festivities of the summer solstice. In that bygone era, many cultures held the belief that on this magical night, the heavens open up, allowing spirits to descend. Therefore, as a means of protection, people would gather around bonfires to ward off any evil spirits.
Although we now consider the summer solstice to be the first day of summer, astronomically speaking, in ancient Germanic cultures this time of the year was known as “midsummer”.
The summer solstice marks the longest day and shortest night of the year and falls on the 20th or the 21st of June, depending on the year.
Traditionally, however, midsummer was celebrated on the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June, and in Valencia, the Night of San Juan continues to be celebrated on this day.
With the spread of Christianity, the midsummer celebration became associated with the birth of Saint John the Baptist, who is said to have been born six months before Jesus Christ. The fact that a pagan celebration already existed on the 24th of June, was quite convenient.
In Valencia, the Night of San Juan is a lively and joyful celebration. However, true to its name, it’s also an important Christian holiday. On June 24th, church masses are held throughout Valencia and the day is declared a bank holiday.
While San Juan’s Night is celebrated in many parts of Spain, it’s the coastal areas, Valencia included, that literally take up the torch.
Rituals to perform on the Night of San Juan
The Night of San Juan is a magical night not only because of its enchanting atmosphere but also due to the good-luck rituals passed down through generations. Here are the most popular three.
- Jumping over the bonfires: It is a common belief that leaping over the bonfires during the Night of San Juan brings good luck and cleanses individuals of negativity.
- Writing down your wishes: Some people write down wishes on pieces of paper and then burn them in bonfires. This is believed to help their wishes come true in the coming year.
- Jumping over seven waves: As the clock strikes midnight, people often approach the seashores and jump over seven waves. Some also take symbolic dips in the sea, which is considered a purifying act that washes away the past and brings good fortune for the future.
Tips for enjoying the San Juan celebrations in Valencia
The Night of Saint John is a time when the boundaries between the ordinary and the extraordinary seem to blur, resulting in one of the most fun and exciting nights in the Valencian calendar. But in order to stay safe and enjoy the festivities, here are a few things to consider.
Tips for building your own San Juan bonfire
- You can only build a bonfire in the designated areas along the beaches of El Cabanyal, Malvarrosa, and Patacona, the three urban beaches of Valencia.
- There will be several official firewood distribution points along the promenade. The firewood is free of charge and comes from the pruning of trees around the city (such as sidewalks and parks).
- While tons of free firewood are distributed along the beach, due to the high demand, the firewood is usually gone within the first hour or so. If you want to make your own bonfire, it’s best to arrive at the beach in mid-afternoon (they usually start distributing the firewood around 6 pm, but this can change from one year to the next, so it’s better to check the official schedule).
- Bonfires are prohibited on the beaches along Albufera National Park, from Pinedo el El Perollonet, due to the proximity to the El Saler pine forest and the increased risk of wildfires.
What to wear
- Wear cotton over nylon clothing as sparks from bonfires can cause small holes or burns in nylon fabrics.
- If you plan to stay on the beach until the wee small hours of the morning, a light, long-sleeve top or light jacket might come in handy at some point, especially if you’re not sitting next to a bonfire.
- Wear comfortable shoes and don’t take them off while on the beach. The Night of San Juan is an evening event and the visibility on the beach is limited.
- Closed shoes, such as sneakers, are best as they will give you the highest protection level in the event of stepping on an object or irregular surface. They will also prevent sand from entering your shoes, which can be quite annoying.
What to bring
- Bring food and drinks. Some people choose to cook food over the bonfires. But the majority will simply bring homemade sandwiches, snacks, and beverages and have a picnic on the beach while enjoying the atmosphere.
- If you want to enjoy your drinks cold, you can bring g a portable cooler.
- You can bring a speaker if you want to listen to your own music. But even if you don’t, you won’t miss it as larger groups of people always put blasting music on.
- Glass bottles and other glass objects are prohibited on the beach on the Night of San Juan. You should also avoid bringing sharp metallic objects. Use plastic or paper cups and bottles instead.
- If you’re planning to build or join a bonfire, exercise caution and maintain a safe distance to prevent accidents or burns.
- Keep an eye on your personal belongings to prevent theft or loss.
- Drink responsibly.
- The San Juan Night is the only night of the year when bathing in the sea is permitted. Be responsible and don’t venture yourself too far from the shores though.
- Toward the end of the night, the smoke from all the bonfires will build up in the air. If you have sensitive eyes or lungs, it might end up bothering you. Stay safe by moving to a different location either on or off the beach.
- Also, it is worth noting that the smell of smoke from bonfires during the Night of San Juan can be persistent and you won’t be able to wear your clothes again before washing them first. So pack an extra outfit specifically for this event. Also, you’ll most likely need to wash your hair more than once to completely eliminate the lingering smell.
- On the Night of San Juan, Valencia’s public transportation system (metro, tram, and bus) operates around the clock at a higher frequency than normal.
- Some streets in Valencia’s maritime neighborhoods will be closed to traffic as early as mid-afternoon. If you’re coming by car, you might have to park quite far from the beach and from there either walk or take public transport.
- Shops and restaurants along the beach stay open until after midnight. There’s also a street market along the promenade.
- Remember to responsibly dispose of your trash and refrain from leaving any waste behind. Authorities often distribute garbage bags during the Night of San Juan to assist in keeping the beaches clean, so make use of them and leave the beach as you found it.
- The beach must be vacated before 4 am when the cleaning operation begins so that the beach can be enjoyed by beachgoers first thing in the morning.