Noche de San Juan
By JANETH VILARIÑO
June 7, 2002
Mark your calendars, Noche de San Juan is just around the corner, and you won't need sun block for this trip to the beach. For my first experience with the traditions and rituals of "Noche de San Juan," I found it rather odd to see crowds of people in the water at midnight flipping around. What's so special about this night, which attracts hordes of people to the water, whether the beach, river, lake, or swimming pool? For those new to this annual celebration, or who just need a refresher about its origins, let me shed some light.
St. John the Baptist
June 24 is the birth date of John the Baptist, six months before Jesus Christ. His parents, Zachary and Elizabeth, were elderly and unable to have children. One day, an angel appeared to Zachary and notified him that his wife was going to have a baby, who would be the precursor of the Messiah and to name him John.
John was orphaned at a young age and went to live in the deserts of Judea. According to biblical readings, he lived in extreme poverty; dressed in camel hair, and ate locusts and wild honey. When he was 30, John went to the banks of the Jordan River to preach against the evils of the times, and about the arrival of the Messiah. He called people to penance and baptism and, one day, among the large crowds he attracted, Jesus Christ came to him.
Herod Antipas, Ruler of Galilee and Perea, imprisoned John for openly denouncing his adulterous and incestuous marriage with Herodias, wife of his half brother Philip. Herodias nourished a bitter hatred against John for his criticism and was eager to put him to death, but Herod disagreed. Salome, Herodias' daughter, danced before Herod and his guests and, in gratitude, Herod swore he would give her whatever she asked. John the Baptist was beheaded at Salome's request.
Beliefs & rituals
According to tradition, at the stroke of midnight on St. John's Day, the waters are blessed and possess special powers, including curing sickness, giving beauty, improving fortune, aiding in animal fertility, increasing agricultural production, and warding off evil. The rituals associated with water date back to ancient civilizations, including old Egypt and its unity with the Nile River. Fire is also a purifying element. Bonfires are lit on the eve of Saint John's Day and some people leap over them believing it will purify them and prevent ailments. This custom allegedly was very common in ancient Rome.
La Noche de San Juan is widely celebrated throughout the world, with each country and region having its own traditions and rituals. In Puerto Rico, tradition holds that walking backward toward the beach and doing back flips in the water at exactly midnight brings good luck and keeps evil away throughout the year. Just how many flips one must do is uncertain, with some sources indicating 12 flips, which coincides with midnight and the months of the year, while other sources say seven; it's up to you how many you do.
The majority of the island's public beaches and "balnearios" will be open during this night (see list below). Although there is increased police surveillance during the festivities, safety precautions should be observed. Don't carry valuables with you or go into deep water, and stay close to your group.
Plenty of activities lead up to and continue on St. John's Day on June 24. Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, hosts four days of activities in honor of its patron saint (see program below). Whether you believe in the healing powers of fire and water, this special night is a lot of fun, so forget your sun block.
Fiestas de San Juan events program
Many activities occur simultaneously. Program is subject to change.
Thursday, June 20, Plaza San José
6:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m. Karate exhibition
6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Rock band festival
6:30 p.m. - 7:00 p.m. Gymnastics exhibition
7:00 p.m. - 10:00 p.m. Boxing matches
Friday, June 21, Plaza San José
6:00 p.m.9:00 p.m. Domino tournament
6:30 p.m.7:00 p.m. Aerobics exhibition
7:00 p.m.9:00 p.m. Salsa in the plaza
7:00 p.m.10:00 p.m. Boxing matches
Saturday, June 22
9:00 a.m.4:00 p.m. Chess tournament (Pedrín Zorilla Coliseum)
9:00 a.m.4:00 p.m. Judo tournament (Pedrín Zorilla Coliseum)
7:00 p.m.9:00 p.m. Presentation of Expresión Activa winners / steel band music (Plaza San José)
7:00 p.m.10:00 p.m. Boxing matches (Plaza San José)
Sunday, June 23, Ocean Park (Ultimo Trolley)
8:00 a.m.10:00 a.m. Swim competition
10:00 a.m.1:00 p.m. Water polo
11:00 a.m.4:00 p.m. Women's beach volleyball
6:00 p.m.on San Juan Bautista 10K Run
(Starts at Casa Olímpica and ends at Ultimo Trolley