I´m really looking forward to the main summer solstice celebrations in Marbella Town tomorrow evening – the magical pagan midsummer night beach festivities of St John´s Eve, or Noche de San Juan as it is called here in Spain.
The main focal point of these celebrations are the enormous bonfires that are lit at allocated spots all along Marbella’s coastline, usually at around 11 pm. These carefully constructed wooden structures; piled high with old bits of furniture and other burnable junk, are festooned with ironic slogans making a political or social statement and usually include the burning of a symbolic effigy. It is into this bonfire that all those attending are invited to add their own offering for the mass ritual burning of personal items storing negative energy from the previous year. This can be in the form of any burnable item, such as clothing, an ornament, or even a piece of paper listing all the negative things you wish to eliminate from your life and thus start the summer with a clean slate.
There is a sense of primeval kinship and a magical pagan buzz in the briny night air, as groups of families and friends can be seen dotted along the beach, huddled around individual camp fires or encircled by t-lights adding a gentle background glow of their own to this magical scene of harmony and connection. Adults and children, paddling along the shores, others swimming under the beams of the near full moon and the glow of the bonfire-lit sky. .. And then there’s that unifying moment when the bonfire, in full commanding roar, seems to cast a spell of silent awe upon the watching crowds, lighting up their faces, all gleaming- eyed and glowing -cheeked, as though collectively saying a silent goodbye to past woes as the fire burnishes blindingly, momentarily setting the smoke-filled night sky ablaze with startling red hues.
There are various other traditional rituals to be followed on this night as the bonfire abates, including jumping over fire, jumping over 9 waves facing backwards and making a wish, and washing your face in the sea.
I’m not brave enough to jump over any fires, but have religiously followed the other two rituals for years – albeit that I have only just learnt that in order for the eternal beauty spell to work, you mustn’t rinse your face or look at yourself in the mirror until the next day.
My favourite beach in Marbella Town for this celebration is Playa de la Fontanilla, which has a wonderful family ambience I haven´t found elsewhere and an added festive zing, thanks to the live music performances at the beachfront restaurants that line this particular stretch of beach.
If you´re in Marbella Town tomorrow evening, I recommend you make your way down to the shores to join in the magic of this traditional midsummer night celebration – but wherever you may be and however you celebrate the arrival of summer, may all that is positive flow steadily through your life throughout the coming year.
Feliz San Juan! And here’s to a fabulous summer ahead for us all.
Text and Photos: Liz Glazer