As Tucsonans, the wait for the beginning of the monsoon season is a big deal. Once we turn the calendar from April to May, the heat starts creeping in, the temperatures hit triple digits and we all wait for the dark clouds to roll in and the respite of afternoon rain.
While the beginning of the monsoons is meteorologically more tied to changes in the dew point than a date on the calendar, the annual celebration of El Día de San Juan, held at Mercado San Agustin on Monday, June 24, is an excellent opportunity to send good wishes to the patron saint of water, Juan Bautista (or John the Baptist) and to have a great summer evening out with the family.
The Saint's day for Juan Bautista has been celebrated for Westside families for approximately a century, commemorating what Lillian Lopez-Grant, president of the Día de San Juan Committee calls an "urban legend" to some and a "a religious thing, an expression of faith" for others dating back to 1540.
"One of the Spanish Conquistadores, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado, came looking for gold in this New Spain," Lopez-Grant explained, "and unfortunately, it didn't quite work out like they wanted it to since it was a dry desert. The conquistador didn't know what to do so he called on the help of St. John the Baptist and asked him to work with God to bring the summer rains." As the story goes, the rains came and the saint is celebrated on his day in appreciation.
In its modern form, the event has been happening for 16 years, beginning with a procession from the Santa Cruz River, prayers and intercessions reflecting Tucson's many religious traditions, and then the family-friendly fiesta following at the southeast corner of Congress Street and Avenida del Convento, which includes music (this year featuring Gertie & the T.O. Boyz as well as several mariachi and folklorico acts), activities for children, arts and crafts vendors, food and, appropriately, free water.
While this year, the festival falls on a weekday (the organizers once tried to move the festival off the traditional date to a weekend, which was not popular with the community that preferred sticking to tradition), the committee expects the crowd to build over the course of the evening as temperatures drop.
"People will be coming in and out with a little more activity once the sun goes down," said Lizette Matus, the committee's vice president, "everyone can come and all they have to pay for is food and if they want to drink anything other than water."
The Día de San Juan procession and fiesta is scheduled for Monday, June 24 from 5 to 10 p.m. at Mercado San Agustin, 100 S. Avenida del Convento. Visit the organizing committee's Facebook page (www.facebook.com/pages/El-Dia-de-San-Juan-Fiesta-Committee-Tucson-AZ) for more information.