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The night of June 23 marks the summer solstice, the shortest night of the year, which is also Saint John’s Eve. Although the official public holiday falls on the 24th, Saint John's Day (el Día de Sant Joan), the real celebrations take place on Saint John's Eve, what Catalans call 'la revetlla' – the evening before an important festival, where the concept of 'evening' is stretched until the early hours of the following morning. The origins of the celebration are unclear, and apart from the name, it has few religious elements. The basic ingredients are firecrackers, bonfires, music, dancing, 'coca de Sant Joan' – a sweet pastry covered in candied fruits and pine nuts (among other variations) – and plenty of cava.
The Ajuntament de Barcelona website helpfully lists all the firework shops that open in the weeks leading up to the festival, as well as the official bonfires and street parties that are organised all over the city. It’s a night when families, friends and whole neighbourhoods meet up and stay out late, and the best place to be is somewhere outside, whether on a roof terrace, by the beach, in a square or up in the hills.
Now we've covered the basics, it's time to sketch a plan for some midsummer madness. Start the night with a glass of cava and an aperitif: you'll need plenty of energy if you're going to survive until morning. You'll also need strong nerves: unsupervised kids with bags of noisy firecrackers are part and parcel of the tradition.
Other than heading down to the city's beaches with your own personal provisions to enjoy music and bonfires (and brave the crowds), one of the best ways to experience the festival is to join one of the street parties around town – there are over 50 in total. Some offer tickets that include a sit-down supper, drinks, coca and concerts, while others simply provide tables and chairs so that revellers can bring their own party out onto the street.
The common denominator in all the different ways of celebrating Sant Joan is the inclusive nature of the festivities: it's a festival for everyone to enjoy in the open air, on one of the first nights of summer.