The Adjusted Normal, 10. Of Fire and Water.

Last night was St. John's Eve and we had our barbecue and our bonfire. Though the tradition is to roast sardines over the coals, they were a bit on the expensive side, and there were only thawed ones in the supermarket I ran through yesterday morning. I didn't really have the time to look for them elsewhere, so we barbecued some pork ribs and chicken wings on the regular fire in the lareira, the old-fashioned barbecue pit in the barn. 

Earlier in the afternoon, my daughter and one of her friends went on the search for herbs and fragrant wildflowers. They are seven that have magical or medicinal properties, or that smell good. The original seven are St. John's wort, lemon verbena, ferns, broom, common mallow, rosemary, and fennel. Since they are not always easy to find, each community (and sometimes each family) has their own list. We pick rosemary (we have a bush), fennel, chamomile (found wild), hydrangea, rose, lemon verbena, and boton de ouro. This last is a local name for stinking strawflower. My daughter says it's an acquired smell, like other flowers that some like and others hate. 

Traditionally, those herbs should be put into a tub of water collected from seven different springs. That is not exactly easy to do, so they go into a tub filled with our well water. It stays out all night, to acquire the dew from the magical Eve. The next morning, the water is used to wash oneself. This magical water is supposed to keep away witches, the devil, and wash away the envy of others. I don't know if that's true, but I do know it smells good. 

In some places, they then take the herbs out of the water, tie them together, and hang them up in the barn or somewhere else in the house, to keep the witches away during the year. In other places, still, they tie up bunches of those herbs, and hang them in windows and doorways, as well as steep them in water. 

St. John's, San Xoán, is Midsummer's Day, though off by about three days, and the traditions we enjoy here are quiet widespread in Europe. One tradition that exists in many countries is the bonfire. Midsummer is for purification and for asking the sun to return the next year, since it now begins to wane. Fire is the ultimate purifier. When night falls, the fires are lit, and when they wind down a bit, people jump over them at least three times. The smoke and the fire purifies them, and keeps witches and demons away. 

Another tradition, which is dying out, is for young people to imitate witches and move things from place to place. Take out a cart here and leave it in front of the neighbor's house. Take a couple of flower pots there and leave them across the road. Take a gate leaf off its hinges and put it in front of the neighbor's door. Things like that. Needless to say, people have been averse to having their things moved, and have spent the night outside to avoid that. Some have awoken on their cart, with the cart in the middle of a small stream, for instance. Others, playing pixies, were sent running with rock salt imbedded in their backsides. Of late years, some of those pranks devolved into pure vandalism, and the custom is disappearing. At least it was fun, and I enjoyed doing it once or twice when I first moved here.

Normally, towns and cities have official bonfires, where everyone is invited, but not this year. This year, San Xoán was a personal affair. Each family did their own bonfire, if they wanted, or friends got together. No bonfires were allowed in public spaces, though, so there were no giant bonfires organized by neighbors in a ceded field. We had our own, and my daughter jumped it, while my husband and I stepped over it. This morning, aside from the low clouds that moved in, the smell of smoke was hanging in the fresh, dewy air. Maybe next year we'll get back the bonfires on the beaches.

Life continues.



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