At midnight on Sunday 23rd June the coast of
Andalucía, indeed the coast around the whole
of Spain, will twinkle with the light from
hundreds of bonfires. Thousands of people will
be jumping into the sea and, on some beaches,
effigies of infamous characters will be burnt.
There will be bands and concerts, fireworks and
food and drink all night until the sun rises.
This is the night of San Juan, the shortest night,
the summer solstice. In pagan times it was not a
celebration, for the night portends the start of
winter. It was a time of sacrifice and feasting to
please the gods who returned the favour at the
winter solstice on the 22nd December by
having the sun, once again, start to rise earlier
and set later. It was a time of change and
purification. Fire and water, hot and cold, night
In Spain today, many people will not enter the
sea to bathe until the summer solstice. Hence
the multitude that invade the waves at midnight.
As the bonfires reduce in size and intensity, the
younger generations leap over and through the
flames in symbolic acts of purification. Older
and wiser people stay at the water’s edge and
wash themselves three times. They will be
granted three wishes and have a happy twelve
On some beaches, effigies will be put to the
flame. Originally, as pagans turned into
Christians, the effigy represented Judas
Iscariot. Estepona run a competition for the best
effigy called, ‘Quemando los Bigotes de San
Juan’, (‘Burning the moustache of San Juan’).
Bigotes is a euphemism for the bandoleros that
plagued the area until the mid 20th Century. In
Andalucía particularly, the effigies started to
represent infamous local or national
personalities, a brave thing to do in the Franco
On some beaches the bonfires have
contemporary political or historical relevance.
Sabinillas is famous for its San Juan comments
with bonfires looking like stage sets. Subjects
have been the author Cervantes, pirates, film
stars, and in 2018, circus clowns including Mr
Trump and Kim Jong-un.
Foreign Residents Department
Our office is in the Multiple usage building in Sabinillas.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Thursday
from 10:30 to 14:00
Tel: 952 89 35 48
Mobile: 619 87 46 45
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Submitted by Sharon Gysin on 27 Dec 2019
Could you tell me when San Juan is in 2020? I know the date is June 23, this will be a Tuesday can you confirm if this is right please?
Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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