Fête de la Saint-Jean in Valbonne
There is a special summer buzz in Valbonne square this warm evening, fueled by pichet’s of rosé, Provencal music, the laughter of friends, and the anticipation of the organized chaos that is to come after dinner. Tonight is the 24th of June, the Fête de la Saint-Jean, and in this part of France, it means that we crowd together in the tiny village square with a thousand other people, light torches, march out of the village together hoping that we don’t get burned, throw our torches into a bonfire and then jump over it, again and again. I was told that jumping over the fire is good luck, but like many conversations in French, the meaning was lost in translation.
Fête de la Saint-Jean is a primal, authentic south of France “fête” experience that doesn’t require that you sign a waiver or pay a fee to participate, but you do need a little bravery and some luck not to get burned.
The Fête de la Saint-Jean is one of the countless French festivals that have become a tradition for the people like us that live in or around Valbonne. The excitement started for us five years ago, when we just happened to be eating dinner at Cafe des Arcades on June 24th and as the sun set and the darkness of night overcame the village, people began to assemble and light torches in a zombie-like manner. What a great surprise and pleasure it was for us to observe and partake in this unique event that has now become a summer tradition that we look forward to each and every summer.
It’s an event that you won’t see in Travel + Leisure, but the Valbonne locals would never miss it. Book yourself a table at Auberge Provençal or Cafe des Arcades in advance and you will have a front-row seat to all the action. Even though it will be a warm summer night, it’s recommended to wear closed-toe shoes and not flip flops or sandals although this author has jumped the fire every year wearing rainbow sandals.
Although I’ve never gotten anyone to explain to me the reason for the Fete, I’ve learned through my own research that the Fête de la Saint-Jean is an annual celebration that always falls on 24 June and commemorates the birth of John the Baptist. The Feast of Saint John also closely coincides with the June solstice, also referred to as Midsummer in the Northern Hemisphere, which is yet another excuse for partying and burning fires.