Tradition and/or Tourism?


How to share and sell Sant Joan and not sacrifice the sacred?

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Sant Joan Menorca

Detalles de Sant Joan Menorca

As residents of Ciutadella prepare for Sant Joan with much illusion, the town also prepares for the population to explode this weekend. The fiesta has grown in popularity mainly with young people from Mallorca and Barcelona, and consequently each year the town receives more visitors. Whilst most of Spain’s regional fiestas are joyous and colourful occasions, Sant Joan is also full of ceremony and tradition. The modern fiestas have grown to include new elements such as the bonfires and music on the 22nd, the week of amusements in the Plaça des Pins and the late night partying in the port till dawn. All the traditions both old and new have their place in the fiestas and offer something for all age groups, but the question is…

How many people is too many people?
How can we preserve the traditions of the past and provide safety and fun in the future? Is there a balance between tradition and tourism for such occasions, so the two can exist in harmony?

Es Be Sant Joan Menorca

'Es Be' Sheep of Sant Joan

I remember my first Sant Joan as if it was yesterday. I was just 7 years old. I remember Es Caragol des Born with my parents, Es Caragol de Santa Clara with my grandparents and Els Jocs des Pla from the balcony of one of the farms in the port. The music of the Jaleo and Fabiol are unforgettable, as are the magnificent horses with their arched necks dressed in ribbons looking like they have jumped straight off a carousel. The delight of the man with the sheep, playing with hazelnuts and on the dodgem cars in es Born, drinking hot chocolate and eating ensaimadas or churros. The smell of chilled gin amb llimonada floating through the air, and all the locals singing ‘Ara va de bo Ciutadella’ andOle’ as they danced around the horses in the sand covered streets.

These are some of my favourite childhood memories with my family and local friends on long hot summer days, with white crossed burgundy flags flying from multicoloured townhouses and palaces.

‘Ses festes de Sant Joan són ses millors del món’
- The best fiestas in the world?
The fact that Sant Joan is so spectacular is why we all want to proclaim it as one of the best fiestas in Spain. But one of the reasons why it is one of the best is that it is not yet completely overrun with tourists, its still belongs to the people of Ciutadella. Although many locals say its not what it used to be.  Last year was a turning point in the history of the fiesta with the bad behaviour of some visitors causing problems.  After the fiesta local newspapers revealed that between the 20– 24th June ferries brought almost 29,000 people to the island. This automatically doubles the population of Ciutadella and doesn’t include tourists arriving by plane. This year its rumoured to be up to 34,000.

Pastissets de Sant Joan

Pastissets de Sant Joan

Two years ago, our middle child wanted to see Es Caragol des Born for the first time and at nine years old, I thought she was old enough to handle the crowds. Unfortunately she was squashed behind me next to a tree whist a tall man with a camera in front of us couldn’t care less for either of us. There were so many people the horses and their riders couldn’t even move. She handled it very well but it was hardly the same as the memory I had as a child.

Its sad to think that some aspects of the fiesta are privy only to the young, strong and pushy adults that the fiesta attracts and the kids and elderly completely miss out. Why can’t the numbers be controlled in certain zones?

Its true that all the local fiestas bring business to the island and help to boost the economy which is much needed right now.  And it’s likely to be the entreprenurs of the island who will lead Menorca out of the recession and into a better future. But does four days of fiesta solve anything or only sacrifice the sacred? How does tourism fit into the fiestas and where is its place? Of course some visitors love and appreciate the fiestas as much as the Menorcans do, and others just come for four days to drink and go crazy. Not everyone prepared to pay should receive an invitation.

We are all guilty of either proudly promoting or profiting from the fiestas to earn a living. But we all want our kids to have the same fiesta experience we had growing up, and also for generations to come. So what are we going to do about it?

So please remember its all about the protagonists of the fiesta – Homo des Be, Caixers, Cavellers and Cavalls – the amazing  men and horses with their stamina, patience, control, smiles and courtesy amongst the crowds.

Lets make their job easier and be their protectors. After all if you ask any of them why the do it year after year they will tell you without hesitation ‘Perque som de Ciutadella’... because I am from Ciutadella…and this is what ciutadellencs have always done and will continue to do.

A reminder of the beauty and heart of Sant Joan. A must see!!
The images say 1000 words…

Written by Vanessa Jeny

Vanessa Jeny

Vanessa Jeny is the founder of MenorcaBlue.com, an online lifestyle and travel guide to the Spanish Mediterranean island of Menorca. She helps connect the top tourist services on the island with discerning travellers looking for authentic local experiences on holiday… peek inside paradise & live the local lifestyle!

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