San Juan: a magical night not without risks

The Feast of St. John, celebrated every year on June 23, is one of the most traditional and deeply rooted popular festivities in Spain. Fire, magic, superstitions, firecrackers, desserts, food… These are just some of the traditions that run from one end of the country to the other, which vary depending on the place visited.

It all goes back to the celebration of the birth of St. John the Baptist, and the origin of the festival is associated with the arrival of the summer solstice on June 21. However, it should be noted that the tradition of lighting bonfires predates Christianity, as it was believed that if a bonfire was made to coincide with the solstice, it would purify and help the sun.

A festival with many variants

The festivity of Midsummer’s Eve has multiple rituals, which vary according to each community. One of the usual celebrations is to light a bonfire -throughout the country there will be thousands-, and when the intensity of the flames of this has been reduced, to jump over it. Firecrackers and fireworks are also common, illuminating what is known as “the shortest night of the year”.

However, the direction or even the number of jumps varies depending on the area where we are. For example, in the Valencian Community, in order to get good luck for the coming year, the bonfire is jumped seven times, while at the other end of the country, in Galicia, tradition says that the bonfire must be jumped nine times to scare away the meigas for at least a year.

In Catalonia and the Valencian Community, apart from the bonfires, it is customary to accompany the night of San Juan with the typical coca, an artisan dessert that can be of various kinds, candied fruit, pine nuts, candied with marzipan… In Galicia and Andalusia the fire is used to roast sardines, in Castilla-La Mancha gazpacho is common, while in the Basque Country cider and zurracapote are common.

Another of the fundamental elements in this celebration is water. Washing one’s face in the sea at midnight is common in Andalusia, and it is believed that this keeps the one who does so young and handsome, although the spell will be broken if throughout the night he looks in the mirror. Taking a dip in the sea during the night of San Juan brings good luck; and jumping nine waves with your back to the sea eliminates negative energies, as well as increasing a woman’s fertile capacity… An example could be the Galician beach of A Lanzada, where legend has it that the woman who jumps nine waves during the verbena of the night of San Juan will become pregnant.

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Burns, a headache during the dawn of June 24

The Spanish proverb says that those who play with fire end up getting burned, although the popular wisdom that the third element is a dangerous thing seems to be forgotten during the night of June 23, since the number of patients who come to the Emergency Room for burns increases dramatically during the early hours of June 24.

In fact, the Burn Unit of the University Hospital Complex of A Coruña has prepared a study that analyzes the consequences of this holiday. The research shows an annual peak linked to the celebration, in which most of the patients treated are males under 30 years of age, with the hands being the areas most affected by burns. This confirms that young men are more prone to risky activities than other sectors of the population, and these activities are often linked to alcohol consumption.

However, burns are not only caused by jumping bonfires or stepping on them when the fire is not yet well spread, but the use of firecrackers is also one of the factors that fills the consultations in the early hours of June 24.

Care of burns during the night of San Juan

In order to avoid injuries, caution is recommended when interacting with fire throughout the entire San Juan verbena. However, statistics say that throughout that night, those treated for burns will multiply, so you should go to the emergency room in order to avoid sequelae.

As such, a burn is an injury to the tissue due to exposure to an external agent. There are three different degrees of burns:

  • First-degree burns: affect the outer layer of the skin. The skin becomes reddened with great discomfort.
  • Second-degree burns: affect the dermis, located under the epidermis. The skin is reddened and may blister. They are very painful.
  • Third degree burns: in this case the deep layers are affected. They do not hurt because the nerves are burned and the skin is insensitive.

In the same line, common injuries during the night of San Juan are the burns derived from the explosions of firecrackers. In this case, explosions from firecrackers usually affect the hands and face, although special care should be taken with eye injuries