Alicante / Bonfires of Saint John

The night of Saint John’s Day is associated with the pagan celebration of the arrival of summer and the cult of fire on the shortest night of the year

The history of this festival originated with the farmers of Alicante celebrating the arrival of summer. On June 23rd, they took to the countryside to eat traditional foods, set off fireworks, and swim in the sea. At nightfall, they made bonfires around which they would sing and dance. Eventually, the celebration came to the city of Alicante. In light of the success of Las Fallas in Valencia, Alicante took a page out of their neighbor’s book and decided to promote their festival as a tourist event. And so in 1928, the Bonfires of Saint John were established as Alicante’s official festival thanks to Jose María Py, a Cádiz native living in Alicante who pushed to help the bonfires achieve the same status as Las Fallas in Valencia. This tradition has been extended to other towns in Spain.

Old image of the traditional palm-shaped firework

Since then, every year from June 20th to 24th, Alicante is full of partying, music, and fire. During the five days of festivities and fun, the city is steeped in the smell of fireworks and the flavor of traditional dishes. Visitors from all over Spain come to take in the spectacle.

The festival begins on June 20th. At midnight, the traditional Plantá takes place, which consists of the creation of a great bonfire and a children’s bonfire in each district of the city. Cranes are used for the plantá and the installation of the barracas (festival stalls). Once everything is set up, all those involved in the preparations eat a traditional dinner of coca amb tonyina in the stalls.

On June 21st and 22nd, an offering of flowers is made to the Virgin of El Remedio—the city’s patron saint—in front of Sant Nicolau Cathedral. The finished product is a great cloak of flowers for the Virgin, as the bellezas y damas (“beauties and ladies”) from each district bring bouquets of flowers to the ceremony. The bellezas y damas are chosen from the local young women to represent their neighbors in Saint John’s festival: an older belleza and a junior belleza are chosen for each bonfire, and each of them is accompanied by several ladies of honor.

The multitude of events that take place surrounding the bonfires includes the entrada de bandas (entrance of the bands), a parade of bands and the bellezas dressed in traditional outfits; as well as the International Folklore Parade (June 23rd), in which floats and dancers from all over the world parade around the streets of Alicante wearing the customary clothing of their respective countries. And, of course, every day from June 19th to 24th at 2:00 in the afternoon, mascletás (pyrotechnics displays) take place in Plaza de los Luceros. Each day the show is put on by a different pyrotechnics group competing against the others. As if that weren’t enough, the event is complete with its own bullfighting festival, which has been held every year since 1929.

The festivities reach their climax on the night of Saint John’s Day, when it comes time for the traditional Cremá. From Benacantil Hill, the site of the majestic Santa Bárbara Castle, an enormous palm-tree shaped firework is set off to announce the beginning of the burning of the bonfires and firecrackers throughout the city, starting with the official bonfire in Plaza del Ayuntamiento. District by district, the bonfires and their corresponding ninots are reduced to ashes amidst fireworks and music on this magical night. And, every year, fire lights up the eyes of all the spectators once again celebrating the arrival of summer.

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