I love this time of year as do most of the locals. We have heard the first ‘Jaleo’ at the end of the festivities for Maria Auxiliadora, we have passed the ’40th of May’ just two days ago and spring temperatures have turned to summer, and we are in the last few days of the count down to the start of the Menorcan fiesta season. The vibe has shifted, and as the last of the preparations are made for the biggest traditional fiesta in the Balearic Islands, more and more burgandy red flags with white crosses can be seen popping up all over Ciutadella.
One of the typical local phrases is ‘Se veu, Se Sent, Sant Joan esta present’
… which means ‘You can see it, you can feel it, the presence of Sant Joan‘, and it is so true. For me what I love about the fiesta is the renewal of the many traditions each year that share the symbolism across generations and within the whole community. Despite the same protocols, music and customs year after year, its the details that reveal the richness of the fiesta and everyone in Ciutadella plays their part. Although its the participants on horseback that are the adored protagonists ‘Caixers & Cavallers’ and the man with the lamb ‘Homo des Be’, there are so many people of the town who make the fiesta what it is annually. From the family and friends who help to prepare the horses , the rider’s suits, the infamous Banda de Ciutadella who provide the fiesta with music, those who prepare their houses with decorations, traditional Menorcan food and Gin & Lemon, those who prepare the sheep and keep vigil of it overnight, the many volunteers that provide both safe passage for the cavalcade and safe fun for crowds, the police who keep a watchful eye whilst their fellow townspeople party on, those who prepare Sant Joan de Missa, the Cathedral of Ciutadella and the different receptions for the cavallers, the photographers, the poets… the list goes on and on.
There are so many different parts of the fiesta and ways to participate, that it is possible to experience something new each year whilst still enjoying the same aspects of the fiesta that all locals remember from childhood. Menorcans love their fiestas like many others round the world love Christmas with the same anticipation, preparation and celebration but in a way that is unique to the island.
Here is one of my favourite symbols of the fiesta, which you can find any day of the year, but on the 23rd of June you will find the real horses of the cavalcade making the same journey on the same road, as these ones on the wall. Known as ‘Cavallitos‘, the line of painted horses appears on a wall on the outskirts of Ciutadella at the start of the ‘Cami de Sant Joan de Missa’. The horses face outwards as if they are heading towards the chapel of ‘Sant Joan de Missa‘, which is the pilgramage that the cavalcade makes each year. My sister, who’s birthday is the 23rd of June, had a wooden set of ‘Los Cavallitos’ that hung in a row abover he bed as a child, a gift from our grandparents to remember the fiesta. But it wasn’t until I returned as an adult that I realised the significance of them. In 2007 the same horses were featured on the official fiesta poster for that year, where they appeared to have jumped off the wall to head down the road to Sant Joan de Missa. It was very clever, and a poinient example of of the symbolism and happiness that is Sant Joan de Ciutadella. Let the fiesta begin!