Photo Credit: Unsplash
By Chiogor Constance Ikokwu
Dateline: El Raval, Barcelona
Last week was the feast of Sant (Saint) Joan in Barcelona. The actual day, the 23rd of June is the longest day and shortest night of the year. It officially signals the end of winter and the beginning of summer.
This feast, usually celebrated with much fanfare, is a big deal in Catalan areas in Spain. Such was the significance that the following Monday was declared a public holiday, giving Catalans a long weekend to commemorate the event.
What is most fascinating is that Sant Joan has its roots in paganism. The symbols of the feast: water, fire and, herbs make it pretty clear that this was a pre-Christian era banquet. But it has been adapted into the church. As in Africa where the sun is a symbol of life, Sant Joan heralds a season of fertility and abundance.
Traditionally, many people head to the beach on the night of the 23rd to have a bath into the wee hours of the morning because the water signifies healing.
It does sound like Aladura church members in Lagos (former Nigerian capital city) having a bath at midnight in Bar Beach. Ehe! Lagosians know what I’m talking about. Aladura church lays emphasis on prayer and healing in line with African traditions.
As children growing up in Christian households, we used to question this practice of bathing in the sea or river at night by some churches such as Aladura. The thought of being on a beach on the Atlantic Ocean at night was scary enough let alone the spiritual angle. It was viewed as ungodly. But that’s partly because the Christianity that we were taught heavily rebuked ancient practices for the purposes of legitimization and control.
It is therefore, interesting to hear of Sant Joan and the symbols, although some may argue that today, it’s simply a big modern party.
The fire symbol of the feast is given teeth through tons of fireworks exploding throughout the city and the setting up of bonfires. People often drag a comfortable chair to their balconies to watch and make merry. On my way home that night, the streets were bursting with people launching fireworks into the air. It reminded me of Christmas night and new year’s eve back in Nigeria. It used to be a festival of fireworks, particularly bangers. Does anybody from Nigeria remember that?
As for the herb symbol, it is seen as medicine or cure. It is said that people with healing gifts experience a boost of powers on this night. Yes, this really sounds ancient and pagan.
During a conversation with a Spanish friend on this topic, she mentioned that as a Roman Catholic, she recognizes that some church practices were adapted from the pagan culture by the Roman Empire. Many believers aren’t aware of this.
Hmmmmm. It’s surreal. Where are the Christian missionaries that told Africans that they’re all heathens on the high way to hell? My view is that there’s a lot we can learn from the past. It is the foundation. If you do not know who you are, where you’re coming from, it’s impossible to build a solid future. Blind loyalty to church doctrine is the reason why we sometimes act without logic and sense.
As for my folks in Nigerian villages, please stop destroying vestiges of the country’s heritage in the name of Christianity. I agree some aspects of tradition need to be ditched. But many others deserve to be acknowledged, preserved and revived.
What are the pagan festivals from your part of the world? Which ones have been mixed with Christianity or Islam? Enjoy and join the conversation in the comment box.