Lifestyle & Culture

Festivals in Spain: Surviving fire jumping, bonfires and fire devils in the country that loves to party dangerously

The Correfocs arrive dressed as devils in white from head to toe, dancing to the drum beat and hurling firecrackers into the crowds

(Editor’s note: Many major festivals in Spain have been cancelled for 2021 and rescheduled for 2022. See our list of new dates at the end of this post.)

It’s often said that at any given moment in time, somewhere in Spain there is a town or village holding a fiesta, or festival. I don’t know how accurate that saying is, though I certainly wouldn’t bet against it being correct.

After all Spain is the country that loves to party.

Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to attend many festivals in Spain. One that springs immediately to mind is the Moros Y Cristianos festivities commemorating the battles between the Muslim Moors and the Christian Spanish during the reconquista. These take place at various times of the year in towns across Spain but mainly in the southern Valencian community.

Then there are the fiestas that are very specific to local areas.

You’ll find the whole gamut of fiestas from the Fiesta del Agua y del Jamón de San Juan in the Andalusian town of Lanjarón (a town famed for its spring water), La Tomatina (tomatoes) in the town of Buñol and Gúejar Sierra’s very own Ceraza Fiesta (Cherry Festival).

(Editor’s note: None of these festivals has posted info for 2021.)

Each fiesta is magnificent in its own right, so whether you live in Spain or are simply here on vacation, check out the local calendar for all the local fiestas (covid permitting) and enjoy.

What it’s like to party like a Spaniard

I’m often asked which is my favourite fiesta, and I can reveal (drum roll) that my fondest memories are of Javea’s La Noche de San Juan. If you ever get the chance, it’s definitely worth taking the trouble to be there during these celebrations (usually around 23 June each year). La Noche de San Juan (and the bonfire of San Juan) has its roots in the ancient summer solstice celebrations when bonfires would be lit to ward off the evil spirits that apparently used to roam freely once the sun had headed south.

It was during my four years in Javea that it became a firm favourite of the many fiestas held in the town. We’d follow the exact same routine each year. A group of 20 or so would meet at 9 p.m. outside of the Church of San Bartolomé de Xabia in the Pueblo (old town). Most hadn’t met before, yet we were easily identifiable to one another by the pink shirts we were asked to wear, pink being the colour of our Peña.

A Peña is defined as “a group of friends,” though it’s evolved somewhat over the years and now generally refers to a “cultural or recreational association,” Our destination, La Rebotica, is a wonderful tapas bar/restaurant tucked away down one of Javea’s many narrow streets, only 100 meters from our meeting point.

At this time of the year, and especially for the fiestas, it’s advisable to book tables/bars/restaurants well in advance to avoid almost certain disappointment.

Crown of murta

Following the food and drink (at about midnight), those of us still able to stand receive a traditional crown made from murta and we head out to the start of the course. Six fires await us and the thousands of residents and tourists all here to take part in the fire jumping. The crowds move slowly. You can barely see beyond the person in front of you until, that is, you come to the fires, when a clearing miraculously opens up in front of you … it’s time to fire
jump.

Drinking and fire jumping … yes!

For many, fire jumping means skipping over the very outer edge of the fire. Now that’s just cheating. Others, and especially the younger ones or those whose confidence has received an “alcoholic” boost, head for the very heart of the fire … too scary for me. I prefer somewhere just in between the goldilocks zone of fire jumping. All is going well until approaching the second-to-last fire, I leapt into the air clearing the flames, almost reminiscent of the legendary Red Rum at Beechers Brook.

Unfortunately, unlike Red Rum, I lost my footing and nodded on landing, sending my glasses crashing to the ground. Not to worry; I could still see them, bending over, arm outstretched, they were within my grasp UNTIL… one of the volunteer sweepers brushed them into the flames.

Undeterred, we pressed on, finally reaching our next-to-last port of call, a small square surrounded on three sides by buildings the Bomberos (fire brigade) were liberally dousing with water to stop them catching fire from the huge bonfire of junk occupying centre stage.

As the crowds watched on, we’d each of us in turn approach the fire, remove the garland of murta from our head and toss it into the flames at the same time making a wish (it doesn’t work, more than a year on and I’m still waiting for my husband to finish the plaster boarding!)

By now it’s about 1:30 – 2:00 in the morning. We retreated back towards Plaza del Convent, body and soul purified, clothes reeking of smoke, all in time for a well earned caña just before one of the final acts of the night … the Correfocs.

The Correfocs, or “fire-runs,” arrive dressed as devils in white from head to toe, dancing to the drum beat and hurling firecrackers into the crowds for a few final minutes of madness.

For us, it’s a great and noisy end to a fantastic evening as we set off on the two-kilometer walk back to the house, me now wearing my prescription sunglasses. Now, whenever I attend a fiesta in Spain, I think how this would – and could – never happen back home in the United Kingdom.

Sometimes a little less health and safety can be so much fun.

Festivals in Spain

• Festivals in Spain that are on include the Fallas Festival in Valencia, which is rescheduled for 1 thru 5 September.

• The Bonfires of San Juan is on in Barcelona this year, but cancelled and rescheduled for 2021 in other locations such as Valencia, which is allowing beach parties. Just no bonfires.

Haro Wine Fight (Batalla del Vino) is on for 29 June, one of Spain’s messiest, most fun festivals.

• The week-long Gràcia Festival : Street Festival (Festa Major) in August appears to be on in Barcelona. Here’s the website.

• Most of the Aste Nagusia celebrations in the Basque regions – 21 through 29 August – have been scaled down including in Bilbao.

La Tomatina in Buñol, scheduled for 25 August, has been rescheduled for 2021.

Xàtiva in Valencia is cancelled for 2021. The next event is scheduled for 22 March 2022

The Running of the Bulls in Pamplona is cancelled until July 2022.

Las Luminarias Festival, another festival of fire, is scheduled for 16 January 2022. Riders and horses jump through giant bonfires on the eve of St. Anthony’s day in the village of San Bartolome de Pinares about 100 kilometers from Madrid.

Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians) Festivals, held in April, were cancelled. The events will resume in 2022.

Irina in her crown of murta

About the author:

Irina Greensitt is from the far eastern town of Khabarovsk in Russia, but lived in the United Kingdom for seven years before moving to Spain in 2014 with her husband and two young children.

Irina now runs an internet business and lists walking, travel and sailing (passing her skippers exam in 2016) amongst her hobbies. 

See all of Irina’s posts here.

See more from Dispatches’ Spanish archive here.

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