Ciutadella de Menorca: The Festival of Sant Joan

by Hidden Trails 12/21/2010

Now that Hidden Trails has added a trip in Menorca, perhaps it is time to share a special Menorcan experience dating back to 2004: The Fest de Sant Joan.

The fiesta of Sant Joan is something that must be seen to be believed. Occurring in Ciutadella annually between June 20th – June 24th, this Menorcan party is full of bonfire, fireworks, music, dancing, and iconic Menorcan horses.

Celebrated around summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, the celebrations of Sant Joan have pagan origins and are mostly based on inherited rituals, practices and customs passed down from pre-Christian celebrations, although religious connections are unavoidable. As the shortest night of the year June 23 represents the triumph of light over dark and legend exists that the bonfires that burn through this night can cure skin diseases and clean both the body and soul. Not enjoying the first six months of the year? It’s even possible to change a bad year to a good one by jumping over the bonfire three times.

The first day sees a lamp being carried through the streets, as an official opening of the festival. After the man carrying the lamb – meant to represent John the Baptist – has left the streets, large bonfires are set (responsibly, of course) in the streets, where they burn throughout the night. The next day sees an afternoon parade of glorious Menorcan horses ridden through the plazas, and sometimes houses, of Ciutadella. At each plaza the horse is meant to bipedal as the crowd cheers, while brave/foolish (depending on your opinion or amount of gin in your system) souls often attempt to run beneath them. The last day of the fiesta sees a jousting competition, followed by a fireworks show that signals the end of the fiesta.

The fiesta takes over life in Ciutadella throughout these few days. During the festival the following things occur: store and café owners remove any pretense of ambience and customer service, instead placing wooden tables across their entrances with a price list for various sized servings of pomada – a tasty and dangerous mix of lemonade and locally made gin. Lunch at a restaurant encourages lots of champagne, opened via machete, of course. People of all ages run energetically through the streets, encourage horses to bipedal, attempt contact with the animals’ hearts, and dart through the complex cobble stone network of alleys. And you will probably be hit by a small sack of hazelnuts, but don’t be offended – it’s meant to be a sign of love.

But the horses, the beautiful, strong Menorcan horses. They seem to take it all in stride. No doubt after a few centuries they are used to this madness, but that doesn’t always make it safe. Over the years there have been many injuries, not without fatal results: a few years ago the mayor of Menorca lost his life to festival of Sant Joan.

Let this be a lesson: if you visit Menorca during this grand fiesta, be ready to eat, drink, merry it up, and stay safe. ¡Salud!

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