This week brought with it a delightful mid-week fiesta, the day of Sant Joan. The Catalan holiday combines a celebration for the summer solstice with a day commemorating the birth of Saint John the Baptist.
If you are a boy lucky enough to be called Joan, then June 24 is your name day — like a second birthday, complete with gifts, family celebrations and maybe even cake. In fact, most Catalans that are named after saints have name days as well as their birthday, how great is that! I am yet to find a Saint Linden…
The 24th might be great for Joans, but it is the night of the 23rd that is the big verbena. Fireworks, bonfires and all-night parties happen on this ‘Nit de Foc’ (night of fire), welcoming the Spanish summer and symbolically burning the old to make way for the new. People get together to share cava and an oval-shaped traditional cake, the Coca de Sant Joan. In this region it is also common to snails, a local delicacy.
Apparently the number of fires has decreased over the years, presumably in response to safety concerns. I have to admit I stifled a gasp at a celebration that promotes fire during the summer! This would never fly in Australia. Nonetheless, the firework stores in Tortosa had queues coming of out their doors for several days leading up to Tuesday night, and children of all ages (seriously, I saw a two-year-old have a go) have been throwing noisy crackers in the street for a week or more.
But when the big night came, the fires in town were overshadowed by natural entertainment in the form of a huge thunderstorm that flashed and rumbled and drenched poor Tortosa for over an hour. The lightning was very spectacular, but it put a dampener on many of the parties in the surrounding suburbs. In the end we had to set off our meagre collection of crackers next to a supermarket car park that had become a temporary lake.
Wednesday, the public holiday, is a day for the beach. Rest and recovery after a big night. We had left the abuelos to their dancing at 2am on Tuesday, and so were up relatively early, ready for a fun day celebrating Sant Joan in Tarragona.
Tarragona is a moderate city about an hour from Tortosa, rich with Roman history and a wonderful place to explore. We wandered around the old city walls before joining the throngs of families celebrating with paella by the sea. Later on we slept off the paella on the beach, as instructed, and then rounded out the day watching some castellers build their best human towers in Tarragona’s central square.
I am now writing this in 36 ºC heat, with nothing but sunshine in the forecast, so it seems we have welcomed summer correctly.