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See In the Summer at Santiago de Compostela

In a few days’ time we will usher in the summer solstice and the shortest night in the year, an auspicious moment marked by a number of rituals. A host of countries in Europe pay tribute to the change of season, not to mention the excitement associated with the long-awaited summer holidays. Fire is usually the main ingredient in most of these celebrations, whether in the guise of bonfires to burn the old spirits of the year we are leaving behind, or firework displays that light up and colour the sky as everyone waits for dawn on the longest day of the year.

Santiago de Compostela is one of a plethora of locations in Europe where the night of St John is celebrated. In keeping with the tradition that stretches across all Galicia, the city’s streets and public squares are lit up with bonfires in the course of what is undoubtedly the most magical night in the year. On this night alone, the bonfires are known here as cacharelas. The people of Santiago de Compostela leap over them, a deed believed to ward off witchcraft and the evil eye cast by meigas, the name by which evil spirits are known in Galicia. Be sure to join in this magic ritual to see in the summer on the right foot. The city’s historic centre has the most crowded bonfires, particularly in the Plaza de Irmán Gómez and the streets of Algalia de Abaixo and Valle Inclán, although you will also find bonfires blazing in the Pelamios quarter, San Juan Park in Vista Alegre and the district of San Lorenzo.

Alongside the bonfires, centre stage also features sardines, the streets of Santiago redolent with their aroma. The sardines are grilled over the bonfires and eaten together with the traditional Galician empanadas (a sandwich pie) and red wine – a great culinary combination for a night out that is bound to extend well into the morning.

Another purification ritual which Santiagans take very seriously is to leave overnight in water a sprig of magical plants and herbs, including rosemary, mint, camomile and rose, and wash themselves with that infusion the following morning. Anything goes when it comes to warding off the evil spirits, so don’t hesitate to get your spray of herbs at the Mercado de Abastos and join in the tradition.

And, There’s More

Coinciding with the festivity of St John and for the second year running, a festival organised by Turismo Santiago will be held from 22 to 24 June at which you can delve more deeply into Galician rituals and traditions associated with the arrival of summer. Among the scheduled activities are itineraries for picking the herbs for St John, a free train which runs from one bonfire to another, wickerwork exhibitions, traditional dance workshops, storytelling sessions of myths and legends about meigas and magic spells, music and the conjuro de la queimada (a ritual consisting of an incantation accompanied by mulling and drinking a pomace brandy called orujo). There will also be a market where you can taste locally sourced traditional products in season.

Text by Turismo Santiago de Compostela