Hogueras de San Juan, Alicante, in June is a midsummer festival with bonfires on the beach along the coast, sound stages, swimming at midnight, beauty pageants, gastronomy, dance, fireworks galore, giants, parades, and more.
Large bonfires are created with timber pallets, old furniture, anything that will burn, as a welcome to summer and partying up big time.
Share hot chocolate and picnic food, which they bring to the beach, while teens and children jump over the fires. The “burning” (or “La Crema”) is the culmination of the festival, which if you haven’t been before, is an awesome experience. The festival has been celebrated in its present form since 1928.
From June 20 to 24, in Alicante, there are about ninety bonfire commissions called barracas and racos of the Hogueras.
Barracas are for people who contribute to the event, whereas racos are open to the entire district and admission is free. Giant hogueras depict events of the year; societal, political, and economic views with sardonic humor are associated with the barracas and racos.
They were amazing—made of paper, cardboard, and mud (really?), plus these days polyurethane, over a skeleton of timber struts, then smoothed out to have the same finish as a ceramic Venetian mask, and built in large-scale, from twenty-five to over one hundred feet tall.
On June 22, we got to Alicante by 7:45 p.m. in the evening—it was hot, especially down in the underground car park by the marina. As we walked toward the main area of the festival, we could see huge caricatures and monuments, the hogueras, normally in squares or crossroads with a huge marquee along side it.
There was a party atmosphere on every street corner, seeing people queuing for the barracas and racos. Instead of joining in, we decided to do a grand tour around the city on foot to seek out as many Hogueras monuments as we could until we ran out of energy. After about 10 our legs gave out.
The next day, parked, we hit the town at noon. This, if you’ve never been in Alicante for this festival, has to be seen to be believed. There were thousands of locals, visitors from other regions, holiday makers, boys and girls, babies, and the stroller brigade. The hot sun, open-top buses rented out for the occasion, girls in short skirts throwing freebies to the visitors from the open-air, top-decker buses, panama hats, t-shirts, fans, Frisbees. We noticed a stand giving away free Anis Tenis. Waaah! It sure sounded alcoholic. We tried it—yumm. I could get to like it a lot, like ouzo or rak, but better.
At the other end of the street were more bands playing. And then, the highlight: a fireworks display at 1 p.m.
Local police had cordoned off areas of road around a central roundabout and thousands were waiting for the display. Rocket shots were fired into the air … and a barrage of gunfire it sounded like, plus big booms of cannon fire. Smoke and lightning flash seared the blue sky.
The fireworks shook the ground, like an earthquake and sounding like bomb blasts rocking the foundations of Alicante streets! Perhaps they turned off the seismic monitors for the area? Reminder to oneself: next time, bring earplugs.
That night, we were at Santa Pola beach, where the festival is celebrated in style and no one stays at home. Everyone was there. Fire-juggling, bonfires, children, and some energetic parents and hopeful pensioners jumping over the bonfires at the beach then hopping in for a swim afterward.
A concert-size stand was built for the night, with enough sound equipment to shame Glastonbury or Woodstock. Live bands played the expected Spanish/Latino tracks, including a tribute Blues Brothers band that did a decent job.
On June 24, we were going to get into Alicante early to catch the midnight fireworks show … hmmm! Never thinking that on such a night, it might do to get there really early. The police had cordoned off even more of the city. Thankfully, we found a car park, quite close to the action, a few blocks away from the central market.
Midnight, we were waiting for the big start, which was to be let off on the summit of Mount Benacantil, the mountain where the Castillo de Santa Barbara is perched.
Rockets blast off to start the proceedings … two or maybe three and then, the absolutely stunning “palmeras” (palm tree) firework.
This firework cascaded down like a meteorite shower you see in the movies, and it went on and on.
Streaks of phosphorus trails burnt into the night sky. The expected conclusion when the trails burned out took forever to arrive. I thought they would rain down on the crowd!
From where we were standing, after loud gasps and ooohs and aaahhs, and photo taking from cameras amongst thousands of people, thunderous applause and whooping, and then, they were suddenly dispersing as if on a mission: a few hundred going east, a few hundred going west, and north and south—what was happening?
We followed a crowd of people who seemed to know where they were going. To a nearby hogueras monument. Another band was already playing and the barracas marquee was very close to the action, still serving food with people eating, drinking, chatting, in their front row seats. No one had any plans to move them—hmmm! They were very close to the bonfire.
Firecrackers snaked around the hogueras figures, not to blow them up, but to guarantee the fire start, including a long fuse wire leading to the person starting the fire. Lighter fluid was then splashed all over the hogueras. A slight flicker of flame from the cigarette lighter and then whoosh! Away it went, the fire took off.
The firemen were already in preparation for the hogueras. Ten minutes later the burning carcass had illuminated the whole sky, as if it was daytime. Firemen shot out jets of water above the burning mass to arrest flaming embers in flight, and to keep any stray flames from wandering. The crowds cheered every time bits of the hoguera broke off and came tumbling down, consumed by fire. It was kind of mesmerizing.
At last when they were sure it was going to be completely incinerated and the bonfire a success, the firemen turned the jets of water onto the general public, who were actually waiting for it. Ah-Ha! The crowd chanted, “pick me, pick me!”
We witnessed a few other bonfires around Alicante town center. At 2:30 a.m., on June 25, many people, even children, were still awake, still partying, still with bonfires in mind. The last bonfire we saw took a while to get going, as we milled around waiting for the police to cordon off the street and fire brigade to be present. The apartments on either side of the hogueras bonfire were about ten feet away. The ever-present band was playing, and the participants were doing the limbo.
The charges were wired up, and firecracker string snaked around to two lamp posts and out in the middle of the road. Fzzzzzzz-boom! A spray of fireworks marked the start of another bonfire.
I was standing at the barrier taking photos, when out of the corner of my eye, the firemen jet blasted loads of young kids with water.
Suddenly it was my turn to be blasted … oooaaahhh! Seeing as there was nowhere to hide, I shielded my camera as best I could and bore the brunt of the torrents of water.
Everyone was soaked in my vicinity, except Murray who was standing just outside the soaking range … who took three steps left to safety, leaving poor me to catch the next blast of water.
Middle-aged residents, visitors in crutches, teeny-boppers … (It brings me to mind another soaking that I got last year, during La Raima Grape festival.) I wrung out my skirt many times (while I was still wearing it, by the way), and as well my hair which was soaking wet. When I at last hobbled from the scene very gingerly, everybody was in fits of laughter. Now I know what to wear next time: a swimsuit??! At least it was over 23 °C despite being close to 3 o’clock in the morning.