Passport to Poconos – Celebrating “La Verbena” in Spain

June midsummer night. Everyone everywhere celebrates. I am in Barcelona visiting my mother. Here midsummer night is called “la verbena de San Juan” (St. John’s Eve) and is one of the biggest, most raucous holidays in Spain. Firecrackers sound everywhere and bonfires light up the sky like the whole city is burning. Dogs and cats cover from the noise and smoke. It’s the eve of St John’s the Baptize birthday, six months before Jesus. Early Christians adapted it from pagan holidays before and brought along the tradition of fires and all night long festivals.

I remember some of these celebrations when I was younger. If you were smart and could afford it, you fled the city for these two days while every kid old enough to hold a match lit off endless firecrackers. My friend Rosa, an emergency coordinator for 911, says that every year kids get burned and get fingers blown off. This year she told me they had over 250 serious emergency calls. “We stop counting the calls for drunks” she says, “It’s thousands in a night like that”.

I wish the firecrackers were outlawed everywhere. What lunacy allows them to be banned for sale to Pennsylvanians but sold to out-of-staters? Is it okay for New Jersey and New York kids to get their fingers blown off?

If not for the explosives, la verbena could be a wonderful holiday in Barcelona. Everyone goes to the street at night and celebrates with music, cava (Catalan champagne), coca (a layered pastry typical for this holiday), and bonfires. An old friend told me that in past years, people would use the convenience of block party bonfires to throw away their old furniture.

Most people head to the beach for the biggest party of the year. No rock concert ever attracted as many people as this night on Barcelona’s beach.

This year I took my husband to the beach. At first he was in shock with all the noise of the firecrackers. “I feel we’re in the middle of Iraq,” he said. It was past midnight and people of every age and ethnicity, from teens to families, gathered around tents, sleeping bags, picnic boxes, and strollers. We passed a coffee shop with tables and chairs outside and a crowd of senior citizens dancing. Terraces were decorated with strings of confetti and balloons.

By morning the firecrackers had subsided. Barcelona slept late, like a midsummer version of New Year’s Day. We got up, took the train south, and joined friends at a small beach town that has a great restaurant specializing in rice dishes. While most people were recovering from ‘la verbena’ hangovers, we were having rice paella. Separated from a summer storm by big glass windows overlooking the beach. All the friendly waiters wore t-shirts saying, “Rice to Meet You.”

Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email:


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