Sunday, 23 June 2019

Summer solstice stuff!

After breakfast today we went for a walk in the Sanxenxo hinterland, basically up the hill a little and into the backroads that lead you to places like Padriñán, which has a rather fine “pazo”, Galician for “palacio” which means more or less a stately home rather than an actual palace. We were on the lookout for a chemist, which we had located last year or the year before, quite forgetting that today is Sunday and therefore that the chemist, once found, had shut up shop for the day! This is what happens when you are on holiday; you lose track of the days.

We came back to the hotel via a series of little alleyways, almost all flanked by stone walls that looked as though they had been there forever. At one point Phil remarked, “If I am not mistaken, this should lead us to Bonfire Square”. And it did. There is, of course, no such official name for this little square but several years ago, on June 24th, the feast of St. John, we came across the remains of a quite large bonfire on that little square.

Which brings us to today, June 23rd, St, John’s Eve, la Noche de San Juan. I thought John Keats had written a poem about it but, no, his poem was about St Agnes’ Eve, a different occasion altogether. Various people, such as John Dryden and Sir Walter Scott, wrote hymns or poems about St. John’s Eve, but they were all too Christian for my purposes or in the case of Sir Waiter Scott, too long and rather gory.

For the Noche de San Juan, for all that it celebrates Saint John, is very much a pagan festival. Yet another case of Christianity subsuming pagan culture. It is connected with the summer solstice and bonfires are lit all over the place, and leapt over in an attempt to ward off evil spirits. And yes, at Bonfire Square (now our official name for the square) they were preparing a bonfire ready for this evening. The area was cordoned off with police tape so we assume they have municipal permission to light a bonfire there.

I read in yesterday’s paper that permission has been given for a certain number of bonfires in and around Pontevedra province. I also read that in Galicia, traffic police reckon to be about to carry out 6000 breath tests on drivers tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning as people make their way back from the celebrations. Also in La Voz de Galicia I found:-

  •  “Trucos para asar (bien) la sardina” especially “sin brasas, en el horno y sin muchos olores”. How to cook your sardines properly and how to do so in the oven with minimum smell. This is important. 
  • Sardines are traditionally eaten tonight but, oh, the smell of cooking sardines does linger. Sardines are reportedly cheaper than last year but on Friday they were selling at 8 euros a kilo, 3 euros more expensive than on Thursday!! Enough said! 
  • And there was advice on bonfire leaping:- “mil formas de saltar la hoguera”. If you must leap over a bonfire, learn to do it properly at least! 
  •  And “siete plantas purificadoras” - seven plants to keep in a jar of water overnight so that you can get up at dawn and wash your face in the plant water. This is an old tradition, supposedly really good for your complexion. 
  • For the witchcraft to work, however, you have to be sure to wash your face at dawn. I wonder if it compensates for the bags under your eyes from lack of sleep! 
It’s not just Galicia that does this druidic stuff. Thousands are gathering at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice this weekend. I read that in the Voz de Galicia as well. What’s more, a friend and former colleague of mine, who is very much into crystals and yoga and holistic this, that and the other, has already posted a video of herself and others banging drums and dancing with a bunch of children to celebrate the solstice.

As you have probably worked out, I am not buying into any of this nonsense.

I did wonder though if Sanxenxo might be the most appropriate place to celebrate San Juan. Somehow I thought I had been told that the name was a corruption of San Juan.

But Wikipedia puts me right and tells me this:-

 “San Xenxo means Saint Genesius, patron saint of the town (along with Santa Rosalia). The exonym in Castilian, Sangenjo was dismissed as an official place name officer by the Board of Galicia under the Law of Linguistic Normalization of June 15, 1983, so that since then the official place name is Sanxenxo.”

By the way, Genesius of Rome is a legendary Christian saint, once a comedian and actor who had performed in plays that mocked Christianity. According to legend, while performing in a play that made fun of baptism, he had an experience on stage that converted him. He proclaimed his new belief, and he steadfastly refused to renounce it, even when the emperor Diocletian ordered him to do so.  Genesius is considered the patron saint of actors, lawyers, barristers, clowns, comedians, converts, dancers, people with epilepsy, musicians, printers, stenographers, and victims of torture. His feast day is August 25. There you go!

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