Today marks the celebration of La Noche de San Juan, the eve of Saint John the Baptist's Day, which also coincides with the shortest night of the year. The Summer Solstice (also known as Litha in many parts of Europe) is a pagan festival that celebrates the longest day of the year. Here in Spain, the Christian festival Saint John's Day and the Pagan Litha are combined to form the festivity La Noche de San Juan, which happens every year on the night of 23rd June. Bonfires (hogueras) are lit, fireworks (fuegos artificiales) and sparklers (bengalas) can be seen. In some parts of Spain, people even jump over the bonfire!
This jumping over the bonfire can be compared to the same ritual during the Slavic festival Ivan Kupala, which is also celebrated on John the Baptist's birthday. It is seen as a "baptism of fire" to purify the soul. Similarly, here in Spain it's a symbol of protection against evil spirits. In coastal regions, additionally, bathing in the sea and jumping the waves is done to promote good health.
How does all this relate to the British Isles? I hear you ask. Well, apart from in the West of Ireland, where Bonfire Night is like in Spain, on St. John's Eve, Bonfire Night is actually something completely different in the UK. Held on 5th November, it celebrates the attempt by a group of Catholic conspirators to blow up the Houses of Parliament in order to assassinate the Protestant King James I. We have all the same bonfire, sparkler and firework traditions, except instead of jumping over the bonfire, we burn a scarecrow (espantapájaros) called "the Guy", represntative of the most famous conspirator, Guy Fawkes. If you're interested in learning more about the history behind this failed plot, I recommend you watch the miniseries Gunpowder. You can find it on HBO and it stars Kit Harrington; better-known as his Game of Thrones character, John Snow.
Despite not having the same Summer Solstice traditions as Spain and other cultures, there is a rather unique celebration in the South of England near Salisbury at the prehistoric monument of Stonehenge. Here at dawn on 21st June, the exact date of the Solstice, many modern-day Druids gather to celebrate the Sun rising over the stones on the longest day. Although nobody really knows the true purpose of Stonehenge, as it was built long before the Druids, one recognised theory is that it was built to track the movements of the Sun and Moon, a bit like an early sundial (reloj solar), which is why the Druids meet here during the Summer Solstice. It's also the only time at which you can visit Stonehenge for free and get right up close to the stones, if you're thinking of going.
I was surprised to find that El País covered the event. They've put together some good pictures. https://elpais.com/elpais/2018/06/21/album/1529567962_577717.html#foto_gal_1
Just forgive and ignore the comment that someone's written at the end of the article. He clearly hasn't understood the importance of the place and festival in British Heritage. If you'd like to learn more about the history of the early Druids, I recommend watching the series Britannia on HBO. The story isn't the most interesting but it gives a decent insight into Celtic Britain before the Roman occupation.
Furthermore, the people the El País commenter calls "majaretas" are advocates of maintaining the link between humans and the natural world-a connection we're rapidly losing! Additionally, their beliefs are centred around environmental protection-something which we're slowly trying to adopt in our post-truth society to reverse climate change. Perhaps some of the outfits the Druids wear during the celebration are slightly strange but I don't see anything crazy about being at one with nature. In my opinion, witnessing natural phenomena can be one of the most amazing and humbling experiences.
Enjoy the festivities and happy San Juan/Summer Solstice!
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