Les Feux de la Saint-Jean & La Trobada du Canigou
On and around June 23rd
The first midsummer fire on Canigou in modern times was lit on 23 June 1955 by Francois Poujade and fellow USAP rugby fanatics – both to celebrate his birthday and Perpignan’s victory over FC Lourdes in the Yves du Manoir Challenge cup.
Between 1957 and 1963, a local group of young people devoted to good causes, enlarged the event, extending the midnight fires to 20 further hill tops and watch towers. French Catalonia was truly ablaze!
A lovely tradition to celebrate the Summer Solstice of St Jean around the 23rd June is the meeting of Catalans from both sides of the Pyrénées on the summit of the Canigou.
Troops of walkers and representatives of villages and towns throughout Catalonia make their way along the track known as La Piste du Llech (a five hour walk), on foot, by horse, mountain bike or 4x4s, to Les Cortalets (altitude 2,150 metres), below Canigou, about a week before the solstice bonfire. With them they bring faggots of vine cuttings – symbols, like the fire itself, of “love and peace” to be deposited the following morning round the iron cross at the summit of Canigou.This gathering is known as the “Trobada” (a catalan word meaning “meeting” or “reunion”).
Tents pitched, they quickly get down to the serious business of preparing the food.
‘Grillades’ of pork and lamb chops, belly pork slices, sausages and black puddings braised on huge metal trivets over glowing faggot embers. Olladas, huge stews of pork shin, tails, sagi (salted, slightly rancid pork back fat), black puddings, sausages, cabbage, potatoes, leeks, carrots, celery, dried haricot beans, thyme, bayleaves … simmered for at least two hours, traditionally in an old fashioned ‘tupí’ or glazed earthenware pot.
There might be el cremat or cinnamon-and- rhum flavoured “burnt” coffee, Xocolotada (or Xicolotada), a posh version of cocoa, which goes well with a sweetened version of fougasse, a flat, sculpted bread handed round on many communal occasions.
Add some guitars and traditional Catalan instruments, and of course, the ‘purro’ – a sort of glass decanter with a long slim spout from which you pour sweet muscat down your throat before passing it on to your neighbour – and you soon have all the makings of a great party in a fabulous location.
The next morning, after much feasting and very little sleep, the hardier participants make the four-hour climb to the top of Canigou, with their bundles of faggots and copious quantities of ribbons and bands in the famed Catalan colours of sang et or, (blood-red and gold.) The faggots, bearing the name of each commune, are piled and tied to form a huge bonfire round the ancient metal cross on the top of the mountain.
Les feux de la Saint Jean
A week later, at midnight on 22 June, the fire is lit with a flame permanently kept alive in the Casa Pairal. A flaming torch, kept throughout the year at the Castillet in Perpignan, is carried to the top of the mountain and used to light the bonfire which can be seen all over the Conflent. The next day, relay runners carry the “flamme du Canigou” down onto the plain to all the villages they pass through on the way to Perpignan and in the evening, these flames light the “Focs de la Sant Joan” or “Feux de la Saint Jean”, fires that have been prepared in towns and villages all over the region. With the arrival of the torch, and the lighting of the fires, the festivities begin
In Perpignan for example, this consists of music and dancing, fireworks and laser display, a giant screen in front of the Castillet showing the procession of the flame and its presentation by runners, the traditional ceremony of the sharing of the bread (le partage du pain) with shepherds from the Canigou, son et lumière………. but there is some kind of celebration in most towns and villages around the region.
It is a night for celebration and an important symbol of the unity of the Catalan culture
Herbs are traditionally an important part of the Feux de la Saint Jean as it is said that their curative powers are 100 times stronger on this particular evening. Rosemary, thyme, verbena and other herbs are picked and made into bouquets and garlands – verbena in particular is supposed to have mystical properties and act as an aphrodisiac, whilst carlina (a type of thistle shaped like the sun) is also believed to have aphrodisiac qualities and is nailed to the doors to protect from evil spirits and to prevent ‘mauvaises fées’ (bad fairies) from entering the house.
A selection of typical yearly events throughout the region on 23rd June.
Check with your local tourist office for a more accurate and detailed programme on events where you live or are staying.
Music and dancing
Arrival of the flame and dégustation (tasting)
Feu de la St Jean Place San Marti au château.
Parades and arrival of the flame. Bonfire and music on the beach.
Sardanes sur la place Paul Reig
Place de l’Obélisque – arrival of the flame and sardane
Fireworks, music and dancing
Fête des Feux de la Sant Joan.
Total Festum : fête et feux de la Saint-Jean Llevant de taula
Music with cobla
Veillée catalane at 20h15
Arrival of the Saint Jean torch and concert
Foc de Sant Joan
Arrival of the flame with parade accompanied by the Gegants d’Argeles, les Cantaïres, le Foment de la Sardane and singers
Correfoc, fireworks and ‘bal’.
Prats de Mollo
Music and big bonfire in the square
Music and fireworks at Prats de la Farga
Villeneuve de la Raho
Fireworks and ‘bal’ on lakeside.
Lighting of the fire. Sardanes, bbq…..
Lighting of the fire. Sardanes, tastings of traditional Catalan food and wine…..
…….and many, many more events all over the Pyrenees-Orientales