The Lou Messugo Blog - life in the south of France from a British/Australian TCK's perspective, bringing you French culture, travel on the Côte d'Azur and beyond, expat issues and a little bit of je ne sais quoi all mixed up with a hefty dose of photography.

Mid Summer Solstice and Fire!

I've written before about how June is the month of fêtes, full of festivities, festivals and fun.  Once again it's sped by at breakneck speed and tomorrow it'll be July, with the "official" start of the summer season. But just before that happens let me show you what happened in my town, Roquefort les Pins, last Saturday night.

fireworks in Roquefort les Pins French Riviera

To celebrate the Summer Solstice, Roquefort holds a fire festival la Fête du Feu de la St Jean every year, consisting of fireworks and fire jumping.  The Mairie becomes the backdrop for some pretty impressive (and alarmingly close) fireworks.  Along with a sizeable crowd watching from only 30-40 metres away, we ooed and aahed with each increasingly loud and long burst of colourful sparkles, reflecting that our taxes were literally going up in smoke! (Me, cynical..noooo!)

jumping the fire at fete du feu de la st jean roquefort les pins

The fête is for the feast of St John which despite its name, has its origins in pagan times and it was only with the advent of Christianity that it became associated with the birth of John the Baptist. It is a celebration of the summer solstice, or Mid Summer, and the date, 24th of June, was the day of the solstice in Roman times. This year the 24th fell mid week so Roquefort celebrated on the 27th, but the nearby village of Valbonne always holds its Feu de St Jean on the actual day.  Many countries around the world celebrate the solstice in one way or another often with fire and France is no exception. Different regions have varying traditions but all revolve around fire. Here the practice is to jump over the bonfire as the embers die down, a tradition which has evolved from an ancient rite of purification associated with springtime. 

fire jump at feast of St John

After the fireworks comes the fire.  This year a big bonfire was lit on the esplanade infront of the local cinema and drew a bigger crowd than usual.  Once it dies down to reasonable levels everyone lines up to jump over it; it's mainly kids (my 10 year old must have jumped at least 10 times!) but there are also brave or foolhardy grandparents leaping with their grandchildren, parents with babies in arms and couples taking the leap hand in hand.  Funnily enough I found I was wearing inappropriate footwear and had to forgo my how did that happen?

jumping the fire Mid Summer Solstice celebrations France

I love that health and safety rules haven't banned this simple fun in this increasingly risk-adverse world.  In the 8 years I've been going to fire jumping fêtes I've never once seen an accident but to be fully sure the fire doesn't get out of hand or anyone gets hurt, the Pompiers (who are also paramedics in France) are always near by.  And of course they put it out at the end (we are in a high risk area for forest fire after all!)  

pompiers putting out fire feu de la st Jean

The fire is followed by a bal which this year turned out to be a singing DJ playing a funky mix of 80s tunes for us oldies and recent chart hits.  Good family fun under the stars.  All generations were out doing their thing on the dance floor from 2 to 102 years old (well, I don't know for sure about 102 years old but some of the oldies looked as though they weren't far off!)  Community spirit was alive and well amongst Roquefortois and when we left around half eleven it was still going strong.

ball de st jean

Does your town celebrate the Summer Solstice?  What do you think about fire jumping?  I'd love to hear from you.

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  • Guest
    Girl Gone Gallic Friday, 03 July 2015

    I know they also do the fire jumping thing in Spain, but in my neck of the woods it's doesn't seem to be customary. In Aix-en-Provence they add little handwritten wishes into the bonfire, which when lit and burned sends the requests high into the heavens...

  • Guest
    KARA Monday, 06 July 2015

    This looks like great fun - would love to try the fire jumping!

  • Guest
    Ryan Costello Sunday, 05 July 2015

    Looks really fun! Better than the British kind of celebration where everyone gets too drunk and usually ends in some kind of trouble for someone.

  • Guest
    Sonia Friday, 03 July 2015

    I wish we had more celebrations like this where we live. It looks like you had a great time x

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 04 July 2015

    Yes, it's lots of fun especially for kids

  • Guest
    Rosie Corriette Friday, 03 July 2015

    I'm loving the idea of June being filled with fêtes, I think we need this in the UK. I remember as a child we would always go to watch Shakespeare's A Midsummer Nights Dream at the open air theatre at Regents Park on Summer solstice.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 04 July 2015

    It must have been wonderful to watch AMND outside in Regents Park, I wonder if it still happens?

  • Guest
    Mums do travel Friday, 03 July 2015

    This looks like lots of fun. My town doesn't celebrate the summer solstice. I wanted to try fire walking a couple of years ago but my children stopped me from doing it.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 04 July 2015

    I don't think I could actually firewalk, though my sister did it for charity recently and said it was easy!

  • Guest
    Anne Friday, 03 July 2015

    It does sound fun. We have a local fun day that tends to fall on the summer solstice or near it, but it's not actually a solstice celebration. There are fireworks at dusk though. I have to say though, I don't fancy jumping over a fire, even if it is small!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 04 July 2015

    It's good that your place has a fun day, where are you Anne?

  • Guest
    Jenni Thursday, 02 July 2015

    What a festival that looks, I love all the colours in the first photo. It gives you such an atmospheric feel!

  • Guest
    Phoebe Saturday, 04 July 2015

    I think it's because I'm so close to the fireworks that it's so unusual and atmospheric.

  • Guest
    sami Wednesday, 01 July 2015

    What a fun day! I have never been to a Summer solstice celebration, and was at Ikea that day and saw their restaurant was setting up the eating area for a special dinner celebration (for the ones that booked it). I would be too scared to jump over the fire, and feel that parents jumping with children or babies shouldn't be doing it....At least the firefighters are close by!
    I like the idea of the ball afterwards.

  • Guest
    Phoebe Thursday, 02 July 2015

    There's really very very little risk with adults jumping with kids, honestly, you could step over it and not be burnt!

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