Bryan Hemming

short stories, comment, articles, humour and photography

La noche de San Juan – Conil

Seems like ages since we had a fiesta down in the pueblo. Could even be a couple of weeks or more. No worries, last night was La noche de San Juan. To celebrate the onset of the tourist-fleecing  season, effigies of a normal-looking couple called Juan and Juanita are taken down to the beach for a good burning. By the uncomfortable looks on the faces of one pair of effigies, stuffed into a car made of cardboard, they had been deliberately fashioned to represent a couple of unsuspecting holidaymakers. To add to the atmosphere they were being escorted by a gleeful mob of hundreds.

Why on earth would anyone want to do that? I had to look it up. I discovered it’s a tradition to make bonfires of unwanted furniture and other old stuff on June 23rd throughout the Iberian Peninsula. It dates back to pagan times. There are various little ceremonies, such as jumping through bonfires, that can bring good luck. Knowing my luck, my trousers would catch fire. Burning effigies does seem a bit pagan, though I think Christians burned more than their fair share of women, local priests didn’t approve of,  back in the Middle Ages.

The massive bonfire next to the beach was lit just after dark. More than fifteen feet high with flames and cinders roaring high into the night sky, no volunteers stepped forward to jump over it for good luck.  It had been preceded by a parade of drummers and dancers with Christina, one of our neighbours, getting up on stilts to become the star of the occasion.

We might as well enjoy the relative peace while we can, the pueblo it set to be bursting at the seams with tourists over the next three months.



6 comments on “La noche de San Juan – Conil

  1. Green Global Trek
    July 22, 2017

    Ahhh we had the effigy burning outside pur house on New Years when locals ran in the street w burning effigies. Definitely a dangerous ritual, but seems rituals are rituals.



  2. Dina
    June 24, 2017

    Great impressions! It looks really hot down you way, Bryan! Can you cope? It was boiling hot in Germany a few days ago and it’s a relieve to be in Norway and cool it off. We had lots of bonfires on St.Hans (yesterday) but it was raining …


    • Bryan Hemming
      June 24, 2017

      Like a baker’s oven, but it’s a dry heat. The nights in this particular corner of Spain are lovely. Very comfortable, as there’s so little humidity. Airs, fresh from skimming the Atlantic, breeze in to cool things down once darkness falls. I remember steamy summer nights in Notting Hill being far worse. Still, thinking about it, I’d prefer to be in Norway at this time of year, as I love Norwegian summers – when they’re not too rainy, of course.


  3. Jeremy Stocks
    June 24, 2017

    Here in Bavaria they also have St John’s Fires. Some are on the summits of the mountains. I’ve seen them in a chain and they look spectacular. Also, in France they call it Feu de St. John I think.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bryan Hemming
      June 24, 2017

      Yes, I can’t remember ever celebrating midsummer with bonfires in Leicesterhire, where I was brought up, and I can’t recall it being such a big deal during the couple of decades I spent in London either.


      • Jeremy Stocks
        June 24, 2017

        Ah, Leicester. I did my MSc there. I lived off Belgrave Road and experienced Diwali there. I’ll be honest – I was terrified. Odd that later I came to love India and visited there often, especially the Himalaya.


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