Bonfires of Saint John – Summer Madness
Each year, between the 19th and 24th of June, the people of Alicante spill onto the streets to celebrate the arrival of summer with the Bonfires of Saint John (Hogueras de San Juan). A memorable party ensues culminating in spectacular fireworks displays and the burning of effigies on enormous bonfires (Hogueras).
The tradition of the bonfires (also known as Fogueres de Sant Joan in the Valencian language) originated in farming communities, in which the people celebrated the coming of the summer solstice by feasting and lighting bonfires around which they then danced. The celebrations began to move into Alicante City itself and in 1928 the bonfires were formally recognised by the local government in a bid to encourage tourism to the area.
Today the Bonfires of Saint John have been declared a ‘Festivity of International Tourist Interest’. Around 90 huge effigies are set up around the city and over ten thousand people celebrate the festival. Other towns hold their own Bonfires of San Juan within the province of Alicante, including Benidorm, Torrevieja and Jávea.
The stars of the show are the Hoguera, the large wooden and cardboard constructions that often depict well-known figures with tongue-in-cheek humour. Different areas of the city will each construct their own Hoguera in an effort to build the most impressive structure in town. These are then put on display on the 19th, and for the duration of the festival, before being dramatically set ablaze on the night of Saint John. (See the ‘before’ and ‘after’ images below.)
Events are held throughout the festival. On the 21st, a band parades the streets dressed in traditional farmers’ and maids’ outfits playing traditional songs. On the 21st and 22nd June, religious offerings are made at Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Flower arrangements are laid at the feet of the statue of the Virgin Mary. On the 23rd, prizes are awarded for the most impressive Hoguera and in the evening the International Folklore Parade, consisting of music, dancing and floats, winds through the centre of town. There are also nightly street parties that go on into the early hours and daily firework displays at 2pm – the deafening mascletà. The San Juan celebration also has its own fiesta queen, known as the Bellea del Foc (´beauty of the fire´).
On the 24th, the long anticipated night of Saint John arrives, and with it “La Crema”. This is the highlight of the festival in which the beautiful Hoguera are turned into towering infernos as fireworks burst overhead. Firemen hose down buildings, street furniture and sometimes bystanders near the bonfires, such is the intensity of the heat. As the fires die down, some brave souls jump over the flames for good luck and the festival-goers move on into bars and clubs. The fun isn´t quite over though because from the 25th until the 29th June a fireworks competition is held over El Postiguet beach.
At the time of writing the schedule for the 2013 festival is not available but you can find details of the 2012 Hogueras de San Juan here.
Alicante City is around a 20 minute drive from the Drivalia car hire office at Alicante airport.
As some streets will be closed throughout the festival, it is recommended that you park your car outside the city centre and walk into town.