The summer solstice is celebrated around the globe and each event has its own traditions and Altea is the same.
The Feast of San Juan Bautista starts with a quiet anticipation of a tree. A tree cut down from near the river bed and carried up through the streets by selected young people to the Old Town Square. It’s called “The plantà de l’arbret” and is a symbol of agriculture. It ends turning into a party zone of water and young people fuelled with ample alcohol along the way!
Whilst waiting the crowd are entertained by jugglers and musicians and no delay matters, only the trees arrival!
In Altea there are 2 trees, one carried by the youth of the town. They have carried it through the narrow streets and for their hard work, as they heated up, villagers threw cooling water on them as the passed. The tree is covered in their torn and dirty clothing before being raised to cheers.
The larger one is carried by young men and women. Both trees are placed in the square by the church. More clothing is torn from the elated and exhausted carriers and tied to the tree, it will help decide a winner if needed!
The tree is raised by the people on the ground with help from the roof tops with cables to secure it.
Now firmly held from base to roof top it is ready for the next adventure!
The young men gather at the base to be the first to try to climb the tree. The clothing now becomes the measure of how high they climb.
The highest climber is said to have proven his virility to all the women of the town and has now become the most important suitor!
This guy was amazing and even took a snooze at the top, before coming back down.
All the youngsters gathered around the tree for each climb and waited with arms outstretched in case a climber fell, to catch and protect their friends. No ambulances were needed and one guy even volunteered to fall, for the thrill of being caught.
If you get to Spain at this time check out your local celebration, here are some I found out about
- Lalín, in Galicia, celebrates O Corpiño, during which people touch an image to botar fora o meigallo, to take out bad things.
- Alicante’s Fogueres de Sant Joan, two hundreds bonfires burn all over the city during the night.
- Palamós and Roses (Girona), fireworks and bonfires are made on the beach.
- Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, the people build bonfires of waste products, and after the burn, bathe in the sea, which they have filled with fruits and flowers.
Bonfires are a huge part of the celebrations and tradition says that if people jump three times over a bonfire on San Juan’s night, they will be cleansed and purified, and their problems burned away.
Another tradition in some places is in the placing of 3 potatoes (peeled, un-peeled and half-peeled) underneath the bed before going to sleep. The next morning, one must pull out 1 potato (without looking) which will foreshadow what the rest of the year has in store: the peeled potato signifies monetary problems; the one that is half-peeled means many ups and downs; and the un-peeled potato calls for great health and economic prosperity.
Then again, if bonfires and jumping are not for you, you could just dip your feet in the water at the seashore 3 times at midnight, whilst making wishes and hoping that the new season will make them happen for you.
Wherever you are it’s a magical night filled with passion, energy, music and life. The devil may be on the loose but you can guarantee that San Juan Bautista (St John the Baptist) will be there to bless the year ahead.
A wonderful sight, a great evening and a buzz for the summer ahead. Here is a video clip too.