The night of San Juan – or St. John’s Eve – is celebrated on the 23 June every year, marking the arrival of the summer. The reason it is held on the 23rd is because it is the longest day of the year and therefore, the shortest night. Valencia, renowned for its rich cultural heritage and lively spirit, welcomes locals and visitors alike to partake in this vibrant fiesta, filled with bonfires, fireworks, and joyous celebrations.
The tradition stems from the pagan belief that because the days become longer, the bonfires would give strength to the sun, so that it could shine all year round. Although the practice is pagan in origin, it gradually became intertwined with Christian traditions, commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist and over time, the festival has evolved into a unique blend of rituals, religious symbolism and Spanish culture.
At the heart of the San Juan festival are the bonfires, known as “hogueras” in Spanish. They represent purification and the warding off of evil spirits, and it is suggested to wear light clothing and be barefoot at the beach to symbolise goodness. The City Hall provides free firewood for all those wishing to take part in the festivities.
Under the mesmerising ambience of the lit-up beach, people gather, share stories and dance, creating a beautiful atmosphere of celebration and cheer. The tradition at San Juanes is to jump over the bonfire an odd number of times to ward off evil spirits and start anew. In Valencia, this is usually said to be 7 times, however, one jump over the fire is enough to satisfy the custom.
Another custom at San Juan is to immerse yourself in the waves at midnight and jump over the waves. It is believed that jumping over the waves nine times will ensure good luck will follow in the coming year. Bands of people, young and old, head to Valencia’s beaches to participate in this time-honoured tradition. The sight of groups of people leaping and laughing under the moonlight creates an unforgettable experience, something you definitely won’t want to miss if you are in Valencia at the time.
The San Juanes festival is also a celebration of music, dancing, and delicious gastronomy. Throughout the city, lively street parties and open-air concerts fill the air with infectious rhythms. Locals and visitors dance the night away to traditional music, modern beats, and everything in between. Food stalls and vendors line the streets, offering tantalising treats and regional specialties, the festival truly engages all the senses, immersing attendees in a feast of culture and delight.
The San Juan festival in Valencia is an awe-inspiring celebration that embodies the spirit of summer. From the mesmerising bonfires and breathtaking fireworks to the joyous rituals and lively festivities, this fiesta unites people from all walks of life in a shared experience of joy and renewal. Valencia’s rich cultural heritage, coupled with its warm Mediterranean charm, creates an unforgettable backdrop for this vibrant celebration. So, if you find yourself in Valencia in late June, join the locals as they welcome summer with open arms and immerse yourself in the magic of the San Juanes festival.
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Some important information about the festival
- The festival ends at 4 a.m. so make sure to leave the beach at this time
- Allow extra time for your journey to the beach; there will be road closures starting from around 4pm-5pm
- Make sure to be careful swimming in the dark – don’t go too far out and stay with a group
- Clean up everything before leaving the beach
- You can’t make bonfires on every beach; the south of Albufeira is off limits, so check before you go
- Remember to get the firewood from the city hall
- Have fun and enjoy the festivities!