June 23rd, the summer solstice, is the magical eve of “San Juan” (St. John’s Day), an ancient fiesta that is present in all cultures, marking the beginning of the summer, the time of greatest sunlight, the longest day in the year.
Compostela’s “Noche de San Juan” is similar to that of the rest of Galicia, except for the enthusiasm contributed to this magical night by the city’s inhabitants, especially the university students. During this night the city is full of bonfires (which are given the specific name of “cacharelas” on this occasion), which Compostela’s residents jump over in order to protect themselves from the witchcraft and spells of the “meigas” (typical name for Galicia’s evil spirits).
During this night, the city’s streets and squares are filled with the smell of fire but also of sardines, which taste best during the month of June; they are grilled outdoors, over the “cacharelas”, and are served with red wine and Galician pie. There is also a lot of music, mostly traditional but also modern music, which, around some bonfires such as the one in Plaza de Irmán Gómez, makes for a lively party.
The purifying rite of the bonfires is accompanied by another rite with water and magical plants, which are left all night in water that is used for washing in the morning. That is why, on June 23rd, there is a smell of wild flowers in the food market (rosemary, mint, camomile, roses…), which are sold by the bunch at temporary stalls only during this day.