Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Night Of Fire: Sant Joan

There are times when Mallorca can seem as though it is awash and aflame with fiestas. We are right in the midst of one those times: a midsummer clash of two of the saintly titans - John (the Baptist) and Peter, aka in Catalan, Joan and Pere. And for the former, awash and aflame is how things are. Tonight is Sant Joan Eve, also known, depending on location, as the Night of Fire*, Night of the Witches or the Night of Magic. Sant Joan, John the Baptist, can appear to be a mere bystander to the Eve which bears his name, a coincidence of his birth (24 June) having made him a participant in the midsummer rituals of the solstice, but he is part of the Eve's equation - the awash part, the water part. John the Baptist, lest it be forgotten, not only foretold the coming of the Messiah, he also, on the Messiah's arrival, was to baptise him. At midnight tonight, if you take a swim in the sea or merely take a paddle, your ailments will be cured, your aches and pains will disappear, but above all, your sins - if you have any - will be cleansed. Taking the waters on Sant Joan Eve is symbolic of the baptism of Christ.

Generally speaking, it is frowned upon, nay prohibited, to go around having fires on beaches: a certain latitude can apply on Sant Joan Eve, however. It is the aflame part of the equation that has little to do with Sant Joan himself, which is why it is probably fair to say that he has, despite the cleansing, been made somewhat subordinate to the fire traditions. They are of pagan times, but they also have a cleansing and purifying purpose - burning something in the fires of Sant Joan will rid you of bad luck as your sins will have been cleansed by the flame. Writing a wish on a piece of paper which is thrown into the flame can also bring you luck; a variant is that pieces of paper - small flamelets of wishes - or nightlight candles are placed on the hopefully calm water before they are extinguished.

It is possible that you can encounter such ceremonies pretty much anywhere, but if it's properly sanctioned and big fire entertainment you are after, then there is nowhere which will do it better tonight than Palma. Its "Nit de Foc", Night of Fire at the Parc de la Mar by the Cathedral will feature what we are assured will be a record turnout of demons for the remarkable, the terrifying, the spectacular "correfoc": the fire-run.

Celebrations for Sant Joan are all around. They range from the full-blown fiestas of Deià, Mancor de la Vall, Muro and Son Servera to the more specific, such as the single fire night in Palma. They are, therefore, not solely confined to parts of the island where the sea is on hand to make its contribution to the festivities. Well inland, for example, there is the village of Sant Joan where, appropriately enough, they honour John the Baptist. And they do so in their own particular way. It is here that Sant Joan becomes the Night of Magic, and it is a night principally aimed at the children of the village, some of whom, dressed up as wizards and what have you, may well camp out at the Consolation Sanctuary, only to be woken before dawn in order to witness the "dancing sun": this is hardcore tradition for the solstice.

Tomorrow, Sant Joan will be visited by Sant Joan Pelós, the character who represents John the Baptist and who performs a peculiar dance which, in the case of this particular village, is one for which he is accompanied by a giant crow - the Corb de Sant Nofre. In Felanitx tomorrow evening, the best-known of the Hairy John Sant Joan Pelóses takes to the streets. Sant Llorenç has one as well, though there he has had a haircut.  

While the Sant Joan fiestas are of most immediate interest, those for Sant Pere, Saint Peter, are already underway in parts of the island: his day is not until next Monday, 29 June. Sant Pere is of particular significance to Mallorca because of his patronage of fishermen. Accordingly, therefore, he has fiestas in Puerto Alcúdia, Puerto Pollensa and Port Sóller, not forgetting the small resort in Arta of Colonia Sant Pere, originally a farming colony that was established in the late nineteenth century when there was a need to cultivate more land. Oddly enough, however, the patron saint of fishermen is also celebrated inland, such as in the tiny agricultural village of Búger and in Esporles in the Tramuntana mountains. They are staging a Zombie Night in Esporles tonight, one which, it can be safely assumed, has nothing to do with the traditions of Sant Pere or indeed Sant Joan.

Fiestas typically reach their climax with their more contemporary ritual of fire - the fireworks display. And so there will be rockets galore in Mancor and Muro tomorrow at midnight. In Deià, they will have their own night of fire with fire-running demons on the loose.

* This is the summer Night of Fire and Night of the Witches: there is another one in January, the night of 16 January - Sant Antoni Eve.

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