Hoguera de San Juan

Galician Saying: Nas meigas non creo, pero haberlas hailas

Translation: I don't believe in witches, but there are definitely some of them around.

On the night of the 23rd of June, my Abuela had the doors of the house decorated with garlands of flowers. You know, to keep out the evil spirits. Obviously. Some of us were staying in another house nearby and I was informed with a wink from my mother that I would be responsible for adorning it in the same fashion, and absolutely, by no later than midnight. My grandmother assured me as long as I had it done by morning, I'd be OK. Phew. Good to know that the evil spirits take it easy on newcomers.  

Enramada de San Juan. © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Our trip to Spain this year coincided with something that I hadn't experienced before, the Fiesta de San Juan. While it is held on the Christian festival of St. John the Baptist it is really a pagan festival to celebrate the summer solstice. And in Galicia they take it particularly seriously. It is marked with the lighting of bonfires (hogueras), the burning of old things, eating of sardines and drinking of Queimada. We'll get to that.

My brother and sister got to making our fire. As Canadians, we have some experience with campfire which we found to be transferrable to the Galician bonfire situation. We had some problems with shifting wind and intermittent rain but before long, our fire was burning bright.

Shifting winds © 2014 Helena McMurdo
Hoguera de San Juan © 2014 Helena McMurdo

Traditionally, the men and boys jump over the fire three times and make a wish. Just guessing but maybe they are wishing they don't fall in the fire? The women in our family were not to be outdone and we all took turns jumping the coals (once the fire had diminished to reasonable size of course) and I'm glad to report we are all still here to tell the tale. But don't try this at home. I can't be responsible for accidents.

Fantasma de San Juan © 2014 Helena McMurdo

And now for the queimada, the typical drink of the night of San Juan. I have written about this before. Yes, here in the safety of our Canadian family home, we have been known to light some high proof alcohol on fire at least once or twice. But doing this in the open air, in the home of queimada was very special. We used a large shallow pot, a bottle of Aguardiente de Orujo, (sort of like Grappa), and flavoured it with coffee beans, and lemon and orange peel. We all took turns stirring the pot, as is tradition, and our cousin Tereixa, a wonderful orator, read the conjuro or spell to ward off the evil spirits and to invite the departed souls to join in with us.

El Conjuro de La Queimada © 2014 Helena McMurdo

 And looking at the picture above, I'm pretty sure that some of them did. Yes, there are definitely some of them around.