Celebrations of Summer
San Juan is a festival full of bonfires, fireworks, music and dancing. It is a celebration of summer which takes place across Spain and around the world but with different traditions including bathing in the sea at night and walking over fire. But it’s in Menorca, in the Mediterranean, where it’s uniquely and especially rejoiced.
Here, on 23 and 24 June, the people jostling each other in the streets of Ciutadella in Menorca could just as well be football fans rooting for their team. But they aren’t. Every year, at this particular place, the crowd’s enthusiastic cheers and chants are aimed at horses and riders. They come to celebrate the festival of Sant Joan (The local name in the Balearics).
The festivities go back as far as the 14th century. Every year the tradition remains the same, beginning with an invitation extended by the Junta de Caixers – a modern version of the Christian brotherhood once responsible for organising the festival.
At precisely two o’clock in the afternoon on 23 June, the square in front of the cathedral is totally packed. A hush falls across the crowd and the fabioler appears on horseback. Magically, the crowd parts to make way for the fabioler, who requests permission to rally the caixers and riders. It is only then that the silence is broken by the sound of a beating drum and a fabiol, a high-pitched flute that instigates a roar of excitement from the crowd. And so the festival begins…
The riders, dressed in formal wear, make their horses dance to the rhythm of a jota folk song. This is the jaleo, a word that literally means “the cheering-on”. It gives you goose bumps to watch, because the action happens literally in front of your eyes and at such close range that the horses sometimes brush against you. The horses are total professionals and take each step with precision whilst maintaining a grace and skill which, according to Menorcans, only they can boast.
There are els Jocs des Pla (medieval games) to try, but most importantly don’t miss the Pomada, a local gin with lemonade (adults only of course!). In addition to quenching your thirst, it’s a great way to make new friends.
Because this is a celebration of joy, this fiesta is the perfect place to meet people from all around the world and party while everyone is singing ”Ara va de bo, ara va de bo, Ciutadella” which means “this is the good one, Ciutadella”.
Late at night, as the final notes of the fabiol float through the air, you will probably hear a heartfelt cry: “Fins l’any que ve, si Déu vol”, “Until next year, God willing”. Legend has it that if you see your reflection in a decorative mirror on the forehead of a Menorcan horse, you’re destined to return… And once you experience it for the first time you will definitely want to keep going back each year… It’s really an amazing experience.
Thanks to mifotomallorca.com for the images.