La Nit de Sant Joan

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Throughout Catalonia, tonight, known as La Nit de Sant Joan (“Night of St. John”) is an enormous celebration. Numerous customs have evolved over the centuries, some of which were repressed during the Franco regime but have managed to reemerge.

Neighborhoods will typically bring together their old furniture and pieces of lumber to create a communal bonfire. Some people will write down their sins on slips of paper to be thrown into the fire, and the more intrepid among them will then take a running leap over the flames as a sign of leaving their old ways behind. At dawn, those who have managed to keep from passing out from the huge feasts of food and wine (no locusts and wild honey on the menu) will go down to the sea, or the nearest stream or fountain, and wash themselves in commemoration of St. John the Baptist’s actions in the River Jordan.

In addition to massive fireworks displays, people dressed as devils and the gegants (“giants”) will make their appearance, as will huge papier-maiche monsters such as dragons and gryphons spitting firecrackers. In local lore, this was the only night of the year devils were allowed out to play, being as far away as you could get on the Christian calendar from Christmas Eve. While not exactly analogous to our Hallowe’en, there is a similar sense of a Christian adaptation and re-interpretation of older, pagan customs. This year as previously, I will be holding my own Nit de Sant Joan celebration, though transferred to Saturday for the sake of those of us who would otherwise have to be at work on the 24th.

 

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