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javeamigos.com | FIESTAS IN JAVEA - FOGUERES DE SANT JOAN

javeamigos.com | FOGUERES DE SANT JOAN DE XÀBIA

THE "QUINTÀ"
Taking centre stage during the Fogueres de Sant Joan is the QUINTÀ, a group of young people who celebrate their coming of age during the year. The tradition has its origins in the 19th century when young men who had reached 20 years old, the age of eligibility for compulsory military service, were called on to serve in the armed forces. Conscription very much depended on the demand for soldiers at the time but it was normal that every fifth man was called up, hence the name for this conscription: "quinta". Particularly in rural Spain, these young men held a communal meal from food that they had collected from their family and neighbours, often painting a special message as a memorial of their leaving youth and progressing into adulthood. As the years passed, the quintos would hold annual dinners as reunions to remember times past. As social customs changed, the tradition began to include girls of the same age and became less directly relevant to military service. (Conscription ended in Spain in May 2001.) These days, for youngsters living in Jávea, it signifies their effective passage into adulthood.

Who are they?
With the ashes of the previous celebrations barely cleared away, the town hall sends out invitations to young people registered on the Padrón who will be turning 18 the following year, inviting them to form that year’s Quintà. Not everyone accepts for it is an expensive obligation – for the girls, the dress alone can cost up to 2,000 euros and, if not passed down by the family, they often have several of them – but a fair proportion of those invited find the money to become part of the year’s special group for it is a real honour to represent the town as the quintà. And it’s not just the native Xabieros who are invited; in recent years, foreign residents have taken part including British and Dutch youngsters. The town is introduced to the new Quintà in a special ceremony during which the members of the group elects its two presidents – one boy and one girl – and the Reinas de les Fogueres, the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting. And thus, a life-long social association begins. A few weeks before Sant Joan kicks off in mid-June, there is a formal gala dinner for the quintà and their family and friends. The Fogueres queen and her ladies-in-waiting of the previous year also attend and are thanked for their contribution and representation of the town; then they would formally hand over the reins at the Proclamación ceremony. The quintà has great responsibility for they are charged with organising and participating in the Three Kings and Carnaval parades in that year.

And the penyas?
Whilst the Quintà is the central figure of Sant Joan, the peñas ('penyas' in Valenciano) are the heart and soul. These are friends who have formed themselves into groups with the primary aim of enjoying the fiesta together. They can vary in size from just a handful of close friends to a whole street of neighbours, taking over a vacant unit or someone’s garage as a communal billet for the duration of the fiesta. Most if not all peñas charge an annual subscription to fund their activities; some friends throw in 200 euros each for the two weeks – but this does mean that their residence is not lacking for food and drink so they can leave their wallet safely at home. The billets can officially open on a specific day, normally the day of the Pregón, however the peñas have already spent many days preparing them in order to be acceptable to the organising committee. Long gone is the spontaneity of finding an empty lot and using it as a party-base for a couple of weeks; billets have to have working toilets and at least one member of the peña over the age of 18 has to sign as the responsible person. Everyone likes fiestas but not everyone likes the idea of festeros using the road outside their billet or nearby rubbish bins as toilets; luckily those days have largely gone. Between them, the members of the peña take turns to cook and keep the place tidy. Some peñas set about organising different events throughout the celebrations; in the past there have been darts competitions, five-a-side football tournaments and traditional Valencian Pilota matches. A few groups are also be prepared to push aside possible hangovers and walk around town letting off firecrackers during the traditional despertà – the wake-up call – whilst some have raised funds to support events such as the bull-running and the great Nit dels Focs or will help to erect the fogueras - the symbolic bonfires - for the final night of celebrations. Being part of a peña is an honour and without the hard work from them and the quintàs, the fiesta simply wouldn’t survive.

javeamigos.com | FOGUERES DE SANT JOAN DE XÀBIA

Fogueres Book
The festivities are heralded by the publication of the official programme, a enormous 200-page publication in which one can find individual photographs of the year’s 'quintos', dressed in all their traditional finery, as well as photos of the younger members of the community who form the 'Corte de Honor Infantil' and the junior organising committee. Photos of some of the peñas are published as well as details of those 'quintàs' celebrating their anniversaries this year. Of course, there is the programme of events and several specially-written articles on a variety of subjects that might include some historical details about the fiesta or a bit of Jávea’s cultural heritage. The book is normally available two or three weeks prior to the start of the fiestas from various outlets around the old town and usually costs around 20 euros. (If you live in the town, you may find members of the quintà knocking on your door and offering you a copy to buy).

The Proclamación de las Reinas
The fiesta itself kicks off with the Proclamación de las Reinas, the official presentation of the queens, their courts of honour and their escorts, all dressed in traditional dresses and suits. Everything is perfected down to the finest detail. The girls' hair is styled in two traditional ways; either the fallero which are the Princess Leia-style buns on the side of the head, or the xabiero, which is on the back of the head. The boys shave close, get their hair cut, often in the latest fashion, and then dress in their traditional suits. And it’s not just the quintos that are trussed up in their finest for the younger members of the community, the Infantil and Juvenil sections, are also an important part of the celebrations. Traditions start early and many of these kids can barely walk, let alone parade around the streets wearing the heavy traditional costume.

The proclamation is a long, testing affair in the Plaza de la Constitución, an official ceremony in which each festero is introduced to a large crowd of proud parents, supportive friends and curious onlookers. Recently the two ceremonies have been split over two days with the older quintos ceremony taking place on Saturday night and the children's court presented the following evening. Saturday is an exciting day for those main protagonists. Late in the evening, in the church square, the quintos line up in pairs and then make their way to the Plaza de la Constitución where the steps have been converted into a grand stage in front of which are many white plastic chairs but never enough for everyone. The quintos are introduced in pairs, sweeping along the catwalks or appearing through the scenery on the stage to wave with some nerves at the many hundreds of friends, family and curious onlookers seated in the square. Musical performances and dancing often divide the separate acts, long speechs are accompanied by tears as the previous incumbents bid farewell to bring their reign to an end and then the new court is presented, the new Fogueres Queen accompanied by her ladies-in-waiting. It's a hugely important and symbolic moment. The crowd often rises to their feet in her honour. The mayor steps down to assist her just in case she struggles with her grand dress as she steps slowly but surely towards the throne which takes centre stage. Her predecessor is also standing and they exchange pleasantries before the incoming queen finally takes her place on the throne, Xàbia's leading representative for the next twelve months. Fireworks light up the night sky behind her as her ladies-in-waiting take their place by her side. Their predecessors leave the stage, their responsibilities finished at last. There are probably a few tears. There are always a few comforting hugs. With the new court in place, they are honoured by a procession of guests, representatives from the other main fiestas in town, the Moors and Christians, the Mare de Deu del Loreto as well as those from surrounding towns: Gata de Gorgos, Poble Nou del Benitatxell, Teulada, sometimes even as far as Valencia and the great Fallas. It's a long evening and you have admire the stamina of everyone involved for most will rush home, get changed into something more comfortable and then return to the square for an open-air disco to which they will dance until dawn.

In recent years the younger Infantil court of honour has been the B movie for the grand proclamation day but from 2017 they have been given their own evening. The youngsters, many of whom have only just been taking their first tentative steps, shuffle uncomfortably in their traditional costumes. Maybe there will be some tears as nerves kick in or someone doesn't want to the hold hands with their partner. As the music starts, they parade in a long line from the Plaça de l'Esglèsia to the main square, some nervously holding the hands of the volunteers, others pulling ridiculous faces as their proud parents jog alongside taking photos. As with the senior ceremony, the youngsters are introduced in pairs, most willingly, a few given a friendly but firm push as a encouragement. Once again, music, dancing, lighting effects and fireworks accompany the ceremony. There is more shuffling as the kids sit on the steps, a huge test of their patience through the speeches, before the Infantil Queen is introduced, the audience rising again as she walks down the aisle to the steps and takes her place on the throne and as the children's representative for the next year. And then it's over. It's been a testing weekend but it is all about tradition and no fiesta is complete without its formality.

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The Pregón
After the proclamations, there is often a sort of "phoney fiesta" for a few days where very little happens, aside from the appearance of the special metal cages – the cadafales – on the car-park in Avenida Palmela in preparation for the quintessential event of the Spanish fiesta, the bull-running. But, before this can happen, there is the "pregón”, the official announcement of the start of the fiestas. In the early evening, the quintos process around the town to let everyone know that fiesta is finally upon them. Friends and family often tag onto the end as the procession works its way through the streets to reach its destination, the Plaça de l’Esglèsia. The peñas and quintàs will have already started to gather in front of the town hall building to meet it and the square is soon full of excited festeros dressed in their colours, patting each other on the back, some of them singing and the more youthful jumping in anticipation. The different colours, the team colours, sway in the crowd, reminiscent of the old football terraces in England. The excitement builds as the procession of the "quinta" arrive in the square; the "home team" has arrived and a great cheer often welcomes them. There is an element of uncontrolled excitement as everyone waits for the formal speeches from the Fogueres Queen and the quintà presidents. Music fills the air as everyone begins to sing along to a few traditional fiesta tunes. Printed sheets are often handed out with the lyrics to two of the most popular songs, "Fogueres" and the stirring pasodoble of "Xàbia". And then, rarely on time, the officials appear on the stage on the front of the town hall building and the announcement is read out: let the festivities begin! Fireworks burst into the air from the rooftops and quite often there are more fireworks and bursts of streamers and confetti launched from the church steps. The atmosphere in the square can be quite wild, almost unnerving for some, but it’s all conducted with fantastic goodwill.

Later that evening, at about midnight, there is the tradition of singing to the images of Sant Joan. The peñas will have enjoyed a communal dinner in the Plaza de la Constitución and their singing voices will have been well-oiled with wine or maybe even something a little stronger. A charanga band, the typical brass band that plays popular festive music, will strike up a few songs and several hundred people will gather excitedly behind it as it processes through the maze of dark streets. The first stop is normally the niche of Sant Joan in the narrow street of Calle Teulería where the colourful crowd squeezes into any position they can to catch a glimpse of the image which has been decorated with flowers. People climb onto the window grills but the neighbours don't mind for its all in good nature and, after all, fiesta is here. The band strikes up the "Fogueres" tune and everyone – at least those who know the words; did you remember the songsheet? – sings at the tops of their voices, swaying to the music and then jumping up and down in unison to the stirring chorus. After a couple of verses, the band heads off, leading the crowd to the next destination, the niche of Jesús Nazareno in the street of the same name where "Fogueres" rings out again in honour of the town’s perpetual mayor. And then it’s off again, weaving its way into the historic centre to arrive in the narrow Carrer dels Cups and some more singing to the image of Sant Joan before the cavalcade finishes in the Plaça de l’Esglèsia where the party moves to a conclusion. Quite often there is a bit of sponge cake and some mistela dished out by the organisers but most people are armed with the quintessential plastic bottle of pop – and somehow you just know that they contain something more than coca-cola or fizzy orange. Almost by tradition, the current quintà takes over the church steps and no-one else is "allowed" to acquire such a lofty height. From here, they exchange songs, chants and the occasional insult with the peñas and the other quintàs gathered in the square below them. It’s long past midnight, the drink has flowed and to the outsider it might feel like things could get a little out of control. However a firm word from a commission member or a local policeman lurking in the background tends to remind everyone of their social responsibility to their town. Gradually the square begins to empty as groups of friends disappear in different directions, the younger element either making their way back to their peña bars or heading back to the Plaza de la Constitución where an open-air disco will entertain the more determined of party-goers until almost daybreak. Older and wiser heads will head home, opting for their beds for this is just the start of long celebrations.

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