25 June, 2009

Midsummer night's fire.

It was the summer solstice this past Sunday--the first day of summer and the longest day of the year. This means two things around this part of the world: la Fête de la Musique (World Music Day) and Les Feux de St. Jean (the feast of St. John the Baptist).

The first is a national celebration begun in the early 80s which has since spread to many other countries, hence the English translation to World Music Day. Within France, there are scads of free concerts in all genres, pretty much everywhere, and innumerable street performances as well. Definitely a for-the-people festival.

The second is an interesting conflation of ritual, both ageless pagan (harvest-blessing) and christian (saint-blessing).

It's all centered around a bonfire.

Around June 21st, often under a full moon, bonfires are lit across France, some as high as 18 meters can be found in the Alsace. The fires, are accompanied by fireworks and attendant festivities, such as bonfire-jumping for luck (over the smaller ones, natch, else the luck is not so much likely to be there). All this to celebrate midsummer and the birth of St. John the Baptist, believed to have occurred on June 24th.

In the French Catalan area, this has become a point of reunion and cultural pride, which culminates, literally and figuratively, on the 2, 784 meter high Pic du Canigou. Thousands of hiking participants converge, tents and small faggots of wood in hand, upon the Trobada, catalan for reunion. The bonfire is lit at midnight using a torch kept alight the whole year long at the Castillet in Perpignan. Relay runners carry the flamme du Canigou back down onto the plain, stopping at all the villages along the way back to Perpignan, thereby lighting the Focs de la Sant Joan of the region. With the arrival of the torch, the party begins, which varies in detail and scale from town to town.

There are no accompanying pictures; mea culpa. While all this was going on, I was trying to ensure my own little harvest, by watering my wilted, sun-burned lettuce, cucumber plants and strawberries. But I do have this photo of the Pic du Canigou, taken while passing Perpignan...

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