The evening of June 23, or St John’s Eve, is a feast that is celebrated around the globe in different ways. Despite its religious origin, more pagan reasons lay behind the festivity. The feast of St. John the Baptist coincides with the June solstice, which is also referred to as Midsummer. A common element to all St. John’s feasts worldwide are bonfires, which are lit in streets and plazas where friends and family get together to celebrate. According to legend, the fires were lit in an attempt to boost the power of the Sun, which, after Midsummer Day, slowly begins to ebb. Symbolically, they are also supposed to cleanse and purify the souls of the people who watch the fire.
Practically all over Latin America, St. John’s Eve is celebrated following the practices brought over by the Spanish and Portuguese and other European immigrants, like Italians and Germans. In some countries, these practices are syncretized with Indian and African elements.
In Cuba, the most important celebration of St John’s Eve takes place in Camagüey, whose carnival, which is the highlight of the festivity, dates back to 1725. The celebration begins, as then, on the eve of the 24th with the reading of an edict from the Government balcony. Then, as the sun goes down, congas parade down the city’s main street. On the following day, everywhere in the city, huge pots of “ajiaco” (a kind of thick soup that is especially rich in tubers and pork) are cooked outside the homes on the sidewalks or streets. The festivities last for five days, and on the 29th, St. Peter’s Day, a straw doll is burned in the Plaza de Bedoya, marking the end of the “San Juan Camagüeyano” festivities.
Havana is not noted for celebrating this day, but this year, an unusual event took place on June 23, 2012 at Club Habana. Hosted by the Spanish Businessmen Association, St. John’s Eve was celebrated with the traditions customary to this day: lighting a bonfire and taking the saint out to sea. At midnight, the fireworks began along with the performance of jugglers and acrobats. Then came the fire-eaters, who were in charge of lighting the bonfire through their art. The drums began to beat and the dancers pranced around the fire in the manner of old tribal rituals.
The dancers then sought out the spectators and took them to the shore. Legend has it that if a man jumps over eight waves and makes love afterwards, there is a very good chance that he may get his wife pregnant. It goes without saying, that many avoided jumping over the waves, but almost everyone was willing to take their shoes off and refresh their feet in the cool water.
The party, however, had just begun. The popular singer-songwriter Kelvis Ochoa came on stage and really got things going. Kelvis is an example of the cultural and religious syncretism in this island. The music continued into the small hours of the morning and only when the sun started to rise, did the party come to an end. The celebration of Saint John’s Eve at Club Habana this year was a special occasion, but has all the potentials of becoming a regular event.
Boosting the power of the Sun? Purifying the souls of the people? The bottom line is that, regardless the religious and mythical connotations the festivity may have, it is a great excuse for just having good fun. June 2012
See video here.