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The night of San Juan in Bolivia

San Juan is celebrated every year in Bolivia. Historians tell us that this festival originates in the heathen Celtic part of Europe which celebrated the beginning of summer. When Europe was converted to Christianity, this heathen festival became a festival of San Juan. In the Andes, the Incas already celebrated the night of June 23rd in a festival called Inti Raymi which means Festival of the Sun in Spanish. This festival continued when the Spaniards arrived in honored of the Catholic saint, San Juan.

Traditionally, families started bonfires where they burned furniture and old wood items that were collected throughout the previous year as a symbol of getting rid of the old to bring in the new. Any object that represented a bad memory could be added to the flames in order to exorcize the bad evens of the previous twelve months. Sweet potatoes were heated in the fire and then offered to those present to ensure them sufficient food for the whole year. The next day, luck for the year to come could be read in the ashes of the things they had burned. People spent the whole night around the fire, dancing and jumping over it while the children shot off fireworks.

Today, bonfires are not permitted because of the damage they do to the environment and health because in the old days the cities were covered in smoke for two days after San Juan. The tradition of bonfires and embers continues only in some towns where people enjoy the custom and leap over the blaze.

Currently San Juan in Bolivia is celebrated with barbecues where friends and family get together. They eat hot dogs and sweet fritters and drink typical hot beverages like api (a hot, sweet drink made from white or red corn) or sucumbé (grape brandy with hot milk and cinnamon) since it is the coldest night of the year in the southern hemisphere. Then on June 24th in the morning, people read their luck in a glass they fill with an egg and beer, or in a tin cup.

Some beliefs were created over the years of celebrating San Juan, like for example the idea that if you get up early on San Juan eve, you won't sleep all year. It is also said that if you burn something you want to forget, you will be well all year. Finally, a bachelor or spinster who looks out the window of their home on the morning of June 24th will see the love of their life pass by.


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