I have been a little busy this week, but the good news is that I am getting very good at administering geriatric screening exams in Spanish! Woot! Plus a Puerto Rican family from the South Bronx just moved in next to me, and the mom has decided to adopt me as "huh daut-uh," which means she has been force feeding me homemade Puerto Rican food. I have a difficult life, I know.
Anyway, I thought I would write a little about La Noche de San Juan Bautista, or the night of Saint John the Baptist. In case you couldn't guess, Saint John, or San Juan in Spanish, is the patron saint of San Juan, Puerto Rico. June 24th is his official birthday. According to legend, the night before his birth, all of the waters are blessed with special powers, like warding of evil stuff, healing, etc. Get it, like in baptism? So on this night, Puerto Ricans (a LOT of them) gather on the beach and at midnight, fall backwards 3 times into the water to bring fortune and health and all that goodness for the upcoming year. Or they might fall 7, there seems to be some debate about how many times you're supposed to do it.
If you are planning a trip to Puerto Rico during La Noche de San Juan, there are a few things you should know. One, if you are in a beach side hotel, there's a good chance you won't sleep that night, especially if you're in a "nice" hotel with a "quiet" air conditioner (mine sounds like a jet engine). People arrive at the beach early in the day to start the activities, and the beach becomes PACKED with people and bonfires. Second, apparently it is not safe to go all by your lone self, as the hotel front desk and my Bronx mother threatened to lock me in my room when I tried to go alone. Safety seems to be a minor issue this night, and there are cops everywhere, at least in Isla Verde. In fact, at my hotel some very drunk celebrators broke into an office and stole some computers and the wireless router, leaving me without internet for a day. :(
A plus though, is that the week surrounding La Noche de San Juan usually has small festivals and events leading up to this special day. Plus, La Noche de San Juan is a great experience and a way to get to know Puerto Ricans and their culture.
One of the interesting things that I noticed about this holiday is that it coincides with Midsummer's Day, which is the longest day/shortest night of the year, and also known as the summer solstice. This is an interesting example of the way that Christian "missionaries" adapted pre-existing pagan holidays and traditional celebrations to seduce the natives into Christianity. Another example is Christmas, which just so happens to coincide with the winter solstice. Here's an article with some more interesting parallels between Christianity and Paganism.
And here's another.
Here is a very good website (in Spanish) about La Noche de San Juan, which contains much more information about its history and its connection to the solstice. And here is a link to a Youtube video, which is actually a commerical for Ace (a store brand in Puerto Rico), but it shows a Puerto Rican man who is living abroad, apparently in a place where it snows in June, and he is heading to the water on the cold night, even though everyone thinks he's crazy. It's kind of cute. Unfortunately I still have not learned how to insert Youtube videos into my blog. I'm like a baby blogger! Wah!!