Flowers. Water. Night. Fire. And, of course, grilled sardines. All these elements belong to one of the most traditional celebrations in As Rías Baixas. The Festival of Saint John. During the shortest and most magical night of the year, the purifying fire lights up the province. Take note of all the rituals of the night!
Sálvote lume de san Xoán Protect me, fire of Saint John,
para que non me trabe from any dog bite
cadela nin can and from all the evil
nin cantos males han that may surround me
With this saying –and others, depending on the region or area in As Rías Baixas– people chase away evil spirits and bring good luck when they jump over the fires during the night of Saint John. Bonfires, popularly known in Galicia as cacharelas, cachadas, cachelas or lumeiradas, are lit in different areas of the province, to kindle the flame of tradition and celebration. The most magical night of the year takes place during the summer solstice.
A purifying fire is the main element of this event, held on the night from 23 to 24 June. As a tradition which has passed down from one generation to the next, before sunset, people create large bonfires, collecting any kind of wood and plants, and perform different types of rituals.
The preparation of the traditional Saint John's water is one of the most important rituals of the night. Plants and flowers are the main ingredients of a recipe which includes roses, lemon verbenas, St. John's wort, fennel and elderberry, among other herbs. All these plants are introduced in a recipient full of water and are left outdoors all night long. Then, the magic of the night will purify your skin and protect you if you wash your face with this water on the following morning.
However, the native flora of the province also has another important role to play in this celebration. Locals adorn their homes with herbs and flowers, especially doors or windows, to make sure that no bad omens enter. In this way, purple foxgloves, ferns and St. John's worts are found decorating their houses to protect them.
In addition, Saint John and gastronomy are synonyms in Galicia. The most popular dish of the night is the traditional grilled sardine. Sardines and salt are the only ingredients of one of the main recipes of As Rías Baixas' cuisine. Grilled sardines can be also paired with wine produced in the province.
Where can I enjoy this celebration?
As Rías Baixas are light up in this magical night. Bonfires, the main attraction of this celebration, are lit throughout towns and villages in the province. The most popular bonfires are:
Vigo: Although bonfires can be admired all over the city, the most important ones are found in Valadares, O Berbés, Beade, Lavadores, Alcabre, Navia and Saiáns. Apart from sardines, roast or grilled chorizos are also typical dishes.
Pontevedra: Saint's Johns Day is celebrated in several parishes in the municipality of Pontevedra. They are also held in neighbouring towns, such as Poio or Marín, where bonfires are lit at the beach, and also in the surroundings of the town of Caldas de Reis and in nearby villages.
O Morrazo: beaches are once again the most popular setting for Saint John's celebration. In the town of Moaña bonfires are held at the beaches of O Con and Meira, whereas in Cangas the best ones can be enjoyed in Liméns or Rodeira, among others. And, in Bueu bonfires can be seen in beaches like Ancoradouro or Mourisca.
O Val Miñor: in the area of Nigrán, Baiona and Gondomar, Saint John is celebrated in a big way. The feast at Panxón beach really stands out.
Arousa: Compostela Beach, Canelas or Bamio are some of the main places to visit if you want to enjoy the bonfires of the magical night of Saint John in this area. Even though bonfires can be seen in almost any town or parish, the most important ones are held in the town of O Grove.
Deza and Tabeirós-Terra de Montes: the bonfires on the northern part of the province are also worth mentioning. The celebration of San Juan do Areal de Berres –held in A Estrada, with a re-enactment of a battle in the river Ulla– is one of the most deep-rooted events. The new celebration of the Celtic Saint John, in the parish of Callobre, in A Estrada, is particularly interesting.