The festival owes its origins to pagan times and coincides with the summer solstice. Traditionally, old bits of furniture or other unused wood was burnt on bonfires. Nowadays, however, special creations, called "niñots," are made depicting everything from cartoon characters to caricatures of local and national politicians, in a similar way to the Fallas celebration that takes place in March in Valencia. The Fiesta of San Juan
(St John the Baptist) takes place on June 24 but there are all kinds of activities taking place in the week leading up to the big day, such as giant paella competitions, dancing and bull fights or 'corridas'.
A special beauty queen, called the "Belleza de Foc"
(Beauty of the Fire) is chosen and she is expected to take a leading role in the fiesta plus continue with various civic duties through the year. Usually, the "Belleza" wears a traditional costume with a huge skirt and a lace "mantilla" or head-dress both of which are specially made for the occasion and cost a fortune.There is also a junior "Belleza" and both are accompanied by two princesses.
The 'niñots' are made by skilled craftsmen who spend all year coming up with the designs and building the models. They can cost thousands of Euros to make. The models are put on display in the streets of each town for a week or so prior to the 24th June. In Alicante, the models tend to be huge and very impressive. Prizes are awarded for the best ones and the winner is saved from destruction to go on display in the Hogueras museum.
Beside each model is an open air café for the members of the group who have paid towards the building of that particular Hoguera (or Foguera in the local Valencian dialect) The bars are called 'barracas' and serve drinks, tapas and provide the opportunity for patrons to kick up their heels in a dance or two. Most are just for the particular niñot group patrons but some are open to the general public too.
On the night of the San Juan festival itself, June 24, all the niñots are set on fire, accompanied by fireworks from the castle perched high on a hill overlooking the city of Alicante and along the port area and the cheering of the crowds who usually end up with a soaking from the fire brigade who are on hand to make sure that everything stays more or less under control. The children especially enjoy that part of the proceedings! Many people will also have their own bonfires, often on the beaches and the celebrations will continue until the early hours.
Alicante is not the only city to celebrate the fiesta with many towns and cities
across Spain having their own special traditions attached to this mid-summer festival.