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Marking the arrival of summer with Alicante's 2024 Bonfires of Saint John

Marking the arrival of summer with Alicante's 2024 Bonfires of Saint John

The Bonfires of Saint John, known locally as Las Hogueras de San Juan, is a vibrant celebration marking the arrival of summer in Alicante. Held from 20th to 24th June, this festival fills the streets with music, colour, and fireworks, drawing thousands of visitors each year. It’s a fiery tribute to the season, where locals and tourists alike come together to enjoy the festivities and the unique traditions that make this event so special.

History and Background

The origins of the Bonfires of Saint John date back to ancient customs celebrating the summer solstice. Traditionally, Alicante residents would gather on the night of 23rd June to dine in the countryside, light bonfires, dance, launch rockets, and take a midnight swim in the sea. This practice evolved over the years, and in 1928, the festival was formally established as the Bonfires of Saint John.

Since then, the festival has grown into a major event in Alicante’s cultural calendar. It’s a time when the city comes alive with celebrations that highlight its rich heritage and community spirit. The festival’s centrepiece is the creation of the hogueras, large cardboard and wooden sculptures that are both artistic and satirical, reflecting social and political themes. These sculptures are eventually burned in a grand finale, symbolising the purging of the old to make way for the new.

Event Details

This year’s Bonfires of Saint John will take place from 20th to 24th June 2024. The festivities officially begin with the plantà, the building of the bonfires, on the first day. These enormous structures, often humorous and intricately designed, are set up in various locations around the city. Alongside the bonfires, large tents known as barracas are erected, serving as public dance floors where people can enjoy traditional food like figs and cocas, a type of pastry with tuna, onions, and pine nuts.

One of the highlights of the festival is the daily mascletàs, a series of powerful firework displays held in the Plaza de los Luceros from 19th to 24th June at 2 p.m. These shows are renowned for their noise and intensity, creating an exhilarating experience for those who attend. It’s advisable to bring earplugs to protect your hearing from the loud explosions of gunpowder and rockets.

Another key aspect of the festival is the role of the bellea del foc, or the Beauty of the Fire. Chosen in May from candidates presented by each neighbourhood, the bellea del foc is the queen of the festival, symbolising the spirit and beauty of the event. Her presence is a significant part of the celebrations, adding to the festival’s charm and tradition.

The Bonfires and Mascletàs

The heart of the Bonfires of Saint John lies in its magnificent bonfires, or hogueras. These enormous sculptures made of cardboard and wood are true works of art. They are often satirical, poking fun at political figures and social issues with a blend of wit and humour. The plantà, which takes place on the first day of the festival, involves setting up these elaborate structures throughout the city. The streets of Alicante come alive with these creative and colourful figures, drawing crowds to admire their craftsmanship and ingenuity.

In addition to the bonfires, the festival is famous for its mascletàs, held daily from 19th to 24th June at 2 p.m. in the Plaza de los Luceros. These are intense firework displays characterised by a series of loud, rhythmic explosions that create a percussive symphony. The sound and vibration are so powerful that they can be felt throughout the body, making it a thrilling experience. If you plan to attend, remember to bring earplugs to protect your ears from the deafening noise.

Parades and Ceremonies

The Bonfires of Saint John are not just about fire and fireworks; they also feature a series of vibrant parades and ceremonies. One of the most anticipated events is the Entrance of Bands and Commissions. Participants, dressed in traditional costumes, march through the streets accompanied by music and dance. Each neighbourhood presents its own “beauties” and bridesmaids, adding to the festive atmosphere.

Another significant event is the floral offering to the Virgen del Remedio, the city’s patron saint, held on 21st and 22nd June. Participants, dressed in traditional attire, carry flowers to the church in a heartfelt tribute. This ceremony is a beautiful and moving display of faith and community spirit.

The international folk parade is another highlight, featuring dance groups from around the world. This colourful procession showcases a variety of cultural traditions, bringing an international flair to the festival. It’s a celebration of diversity and a testament to the universal appeal of the Bonfires of Saint John.

The Cremà and Banyà

The climax of the festival is the cremà, which takes place at midnight on the night of 24th to 25th June. This is when the hogueras are set alight in a spectacular display of fire. The night begins with a grand fireworks show, featuring the dazzling “white palm tree” display that lights up the sky. Following this, the bonfires all over the city are ignited, creating a mesmerising scene of flames and sparks.

As the bonfires burn, fire-fighters play an essential role in ensuring safety. They also add to the fun with the banyà, a tradition where they spray water on the crowd to cool them down and add an extra element of excitement to the festivities. The streets of Alicante are filled with music, dancing, and merriment as the city bids farewell to the old and welcomes the new.

Post-Festival Celebrations

Even after the bonfires have burned out, the celebrations in Alicante continue. From 25th to 29th June, the city hosts a spectacular fireworks competition on El Postiguet beach. Each night, different pyrotechnic teams display their best work, lighting up the sky with a variety of colours and patterns. It’s a fitting end to the festival, keeping the spirit of fire and celebration alive for a few more days.

Additionally, the historic centre of Alicante transforms into a medieval market during this period. Visitors can wander through stalls offering traditional crafts, foods, and beverages, experiencing a taste of history in the heart of the city. Street performers and musicians add to the lively atmosphere, making this a great way to unwind and enjoy the local culture after the main events.

Travel Tips for UK Visitors

For those planning to visit from the UK, getting to Alicante is relatively straightforward. There are direct flights from several major UK airports to Alicante-Elche Airport. Once you arrive, the city is easily accessible by taxi, bus, or car hire.

When it comes to accommodation, Alicante offers a range of options to suit different budgets. From luxury hotels with sea views to more affordable hostels and guesthouses, there is something for everyone. Staying in the city centre or near the beach will put you close to the festival action and other attractions.

While in Alicante, take the opportunity to explore the local sights. The Santa Bárbara Castle offers stunning views of the city and the sea, while the Explanada de España, a beautiful promenade lined with palm trees, is perfect for a leisurely stroll. Don’t miss the chance to try local delicacies such as paella, turrón, and of course, the figs and cocas that are part of the festival tradition.

The Bonfires of Saint John in Alicante is a festival that truly captures the essence of summer. With its blend of artistic bonfires, explosive fireworks, lively parades, and heartfelt ceremonies, it offers a unique and unforgettable experience. Whether you’re drawn by the fiery displays, the cultural traditions, or simply the festive atmosphere, there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

So, why not plan a trip to Alicante this June? Immerse yourself in the vibrant celebrations, soak up the local culture, and witness the spectacular bonfires. It’s an experience you won’t want to miss, and one that will leave you with lasting memories of a summer well spent.

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