I haven’t had the heart to post this past week because of all that’s been going on, but after the Lotus Festival this weekend I think it’s time. Music is, after all, a way to get to know one another. Be well!
This is Part 12 of a thirteen-part braided essay celebrating my passion for music, intertwined with travel and spirituality. I will post one section every few days until it is all here. If you haven’t read the earlier sections, please start there: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11.
Marked with Musical Notes – Part 12
Across the fire, my co-worker strums his guitar and sings “Angie” by the Rolling Stones. Hundreds of small bonfires light up the beach. People sit around them and sing, cook shish kabobs, or make wishes and jump over the flames. Locals also tell me that my wishes will come true if I step into the sea tonight or place laurel leaves under my pillow.
The last suggestion is futile because it is 2:00 a.m. and we do not appear to be leaving any time soon. Our group contains about twenty people, but I only know three of them: a co-worker and my flatmates. We leave at 5:00 a.m., but it is La Noche de San Juan and, instead of heading home, everyone stops at a dance club. I sneak away to walk home but, new in Valencia, I lose my way and end up taking a taxi, finally getting to bed at 7:30 a.m.
La Noche de San Juan, or St. John’s Eve, falls on June 23rd. It coincides with the Northern European Midsummer traditions, marking the summer solstice. Many Midsummer celebrations also involve fire. According to pre-Christian tradition, supernatural forces and monsters walk the earth on this night, making it an auspicious time for divination and making wishes. The fires serves to keep away the evil spirits.
La Noche de San Juan is far from the only holiday that involves fire jumping. Hıdrellez, also called Ederlezi (Khidr and Elijah Day), and Đurđevdan (St. George’s Day) are celebrated across Turkey and the Balkans in late April or early May, depending on the calendar. Despite the religious names, these holiday traditions, like those of Easter, come from pre-Christian and pre-Islamic spring rites and include lots of music and dancing, picnics, and making wishes. Many people observing Đurđevdan build bonfires. Those celebrating Hıdrellez build smaller fires and leap over them in hopes of warding off disease for the upcoming year.
Iranians jump over fires the night before Chaharshanbe Suri, or Red Wednesday, which is the last Wednesday before the spring equinox. The practice originated in ancient Persia and is believed to purify one of sickness, as heard in the chant spoken as one jumps: “Give me your fiery red and take my yellow from me,” red symbolizing health, and yellow, sickness.
No one jumps over fires during Čarodějnice (Witches’ Night), celebrated in the Czech Republic on April 30th. The fire is much too big for that, as its purpose is to burn an effigy of a witch so that spring can come. The largest witch burning in Prague takes place in Ladronka Park, accompanied by a live rock band as little girls run around dressed as witches. The German equivalent is Walpurgis Night, which Faust attends with Mephisto in the Harz Mountains. I wonder if Faust and Mephisto would feel at home in Valencia tonight.
Fire is deadly, destructive, and difficult to control, but it also keeps us warm in winter, gives us light, and cooks our food. Symbolically, it represents anger and desire, danger and the comforts of home, magic and purification.
Continue to Part 13.