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Complete Guide to the Festa de São João in Porto

22 de June, 2023

Complete Guide to the Festa de São João in Porto

In June, the Portuguese celebrate the Popular Saints, with many festivities in honor of São Gonçalo, Santo Antônio, São João and São Pedro.
Reading: 9 min

In June, the Portuguese celebrate the Santos Populares, a series of festivities in honor of São Gonçalo, Santo Antônio, São João and São Pedro. These events are marked by masses, processions, marches and lots of partying. The festive calendar begins with the festivities to Saint Gonçalo, on the first weekend of the month, in Amarante and region. Next is the feast in honor of Saint Anthony, a saint much loved by the Lisboans, which lasts from the 12th to the 13th, which is a holiday in the city. On the night of June 23 to 24, the lively
São João party
takes place in Porto. Finally, at the end of the month, between June 28 and 29, several cities in the country celebrate Saint Peter.

In this article we will talk specifically about the São João festivities, which take place in Vila Nova de Gaia, Braga and especially in

Porto
It is the biggest event in this city. A celebration as large and popular as the carnival in Brazil. This celebration, which enchants both locals and tourists, brings together a series of interesting traditions and curiosities, as we will see below.

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Presentation of a Folkloric Rancho

Presentation of a Folkloric Rancho

Origins of the feast

Although it is a Catholic feast, intended to celebrate the birth of St John the Baptist, the truth is that this commemoration has pagan origin. Originally, it marked the beginning of the summer solstice and fertility, as well as harvests and abundance. Around the 15th century, the Church Christianised this feast by dedicating it to Saint John.

It was only after the 20th century that São João evolved into the format we know today. Only after the revolution of October 5, 1910 , did the 24th of June start to be considered a municipal holiday in the city of Porto. as a municipal holiday in the city of Porto.

Learn how the Portuguese celebrate Carnaval!

Who was Saint John?

St. John the Baptist was a Jewish preacher who was a contemporary of Jesus Christ . He became eternalized for, among other reasons, having baptized Jesus. John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins. Both were announced to their respective mothers, Elizabeth and Mary, by the angel Gabriel.

It is worth pointing out that Saint John is not the patron saint of the city, as many believe. The patron saint of Porto is Nossa Senhora da Vandoma!

How do you celebrate São João in Porto?

Porto starts preparing for the São João festival some time in advance. Several stages are set up around the city. Special lighting and decoration is installed in the alleys of the Historic Centre, with banners, basil pot s and other symbols alluding to the date.

Dances are held in the city’s neighbourhoods. The so-called folkloric ranchos take over the main squares, with music and couples dancing, dressed typically.

On the night of the 23rd, the Porto sky is lit up with small hot air balloons, the Luiz I bridge and Ribeira are filled with fireworks and music. The colourful balconies of downtown Porto become mini stages for DJs. Carrousels occupy the squares.

Various rulotes are set up in the streets to sell all kinds of food. And speaking of food, there is no shortage of traditional grilled sardines and peppers, the smell of which spreads through the city streets.

Finally, hammers and leeks appear almost as protagonists. They are used to greet passers-by and even as a way to court pretty girls.

See here the complete June program of the city of Porto in 2023 !

Saint John Porto: Manjericos and Sardines

What is eaten at the party?

Sardines and Peppers

The sardine is the greatest symbol of the popular saints’ festivities. They are grilled on the coals, in the street. Not only by traders, but also by groups of friends and neighbors. Everyone wants to set up their own grill to participate in the feast!

Other delicacies

It is also common to roast paprika and entremeada (a cut of pork belly) on the coals. Roast kid, caldo verde (green broth) and bifana on bread are also on the menu at the São João Festival. The rulotes, spread all over the city, offer everything from hot dogs to farturas (sweet fried dough similar to the Spanish churro).

The most traditional drinks are wine and traditional beer.

Sanjoaninas traditions

Manjericoes

Throughout the city there will be pots of basil, a plant of the basil family (and similar aroma), but with tiny leaves. You cannot smell basil directly by bringing your nose close to the plant, as it is believed that this can dry and kill the plant. As a rule, one should touch the basil and smell it with one’s hand. According to tradition, basil is one of the ways that lovers use to propose to each other. In former times, this offering worked as a commitment as strong as a marriage proposal. The pots usually bear small flags with poems, with four verses in cross-rhyme, i.e. the 1st verse rhymes with the 3rd and the 2nd with the 4th. These verses help to confess love.

Leek and June cascade

Hammerheads and Leeks

The tradition of sniffing leeks, touching them to the noses of those around, is believed to date back to time immemorial, long before the Christian era. And it exists to this day, being used as a greeting among revellers. But over the years, it has been superseded by the little hammers, used for the same purpose.

The two-sided hammers, equipped with whistles, traditionally used in São João, were created in the 60’s, by a factory in Gondomar, on the outskirts of the city of Porto, as another toy of the brand. At the same time of its creation, they were used by a group of students from the University of Porto, in the traditional university party known as Queima das Fitas. The success was immediate, with students hammering each other all day long. Soon the shopkeepers in Porto were ordering hammers for the São João Festivities that took place a few weeks later. From then on the popularization was inevitable, despite the attempt to ban the use of the accessory in the 70s. If you go out on the streets that night, be sure to bring a small hammer. And be prepared to get hammered all night long!

St. John’s Waterfalls

The cascades are a kind of nativity scene with sculptures, only made especially for the celebration of São João in Porto. They illustrate the different arts, crafts and architecture of the city, and have typical elements and characters: the church, the priest, the procession and, mainly, the mijona and the cagão. The mijona is a little doll peeing in a jug of milk and the cagão (big shit) is lowered without his trousers. Sanjoaninas waterfalls occupy many of the oldest streets in the town, houses and also shop fronts. They also contain a fountain or a plate for people to leave a few coins to São João.

Pimba music, Bailarico and Rancho Folclórico

Pimba music is a type of Portuguese popular music, inspired by folk music, with lyrics full of puns with sexual meanings or simplistic romantic sentimentality. The term is relatively recent. It would have appeared in 1995 , because of a song called “Pimba, pimba”, a popular ‘hit’ by the singer Emanuel, which sold more than half a million copies. It was then that the word “pimba” began to designate a whole range of songs of the genre.

The bailaricos, on the other hand, are popular music balls, with free access, which are spread throughout the city at this time of year.

In the month of June, presentations and parades of folkloric groups from various cities in the country also take place in the streets of Porto, especially on weekends. These are called folkloric ranchos, artistic groups dedicated to the preservation and promotion of traditional Portuguese folk culture. They are composed of a group of people, dressed in typical costumes, who come together to sing, dance and play music, representing the traditions and customs of different regions.

Lady dressed in typical folkloric ranch costume

Hot air balloons

Around midnight, the Porto Alegre sky is lit up with small hot air balloons, creating a spectacle of lights. This practice may seem a bit frightening to those coming from Brazil, where releasing balloons has been forbidden for decades. However, here in Portugal, it is a common tradition and generally allowed. It is important to note that when the weather conditions are dry, the Portuguese government prohibits the practice to avoid more serious incidents.

Balloons and bonfires originate from pagan traditions of celebrating the summer solstice, honoring the element of fire. Balloons were used to announce the beginning of the festivities.

Saint John’s balloon

Fireworks in Ribeira and sea-bathing at dawn!

The highlight of the party takes place at midnight, with a fireworks show on the Ribeira do Porto. Installed on barges in the middle of the Douro River, and over the Luiz I Bridge, they provide a show that lasts about 15 minutes.

And since São João is the longest party of the year, the celebrations start at dawn, until sunrise, with an (ice-cold!) swim in the sea. The people from Porto assure that this dip purifies the body and the mind. Are you ready?

What are the best places in Porto to enjoy Sao João?

The whole city is in celebration, but there are parishes and streets that stand out in the city. And not only on the night of the 23rd. Usually the decorations, the musical stages, the merry-go-rounds, and the caravans already take over the city since the beginning of June.

Ribeira

The Ribeira neighborhood is one of the most popular places to celebrate São João. The narrow and colorful streets are filled with people, food stalls, live music and bonfires. It is a perfect place to dance, enjoy fireworks that are launched over the Douro River. The Luis I Bridge is filled with people on both sides, and sometimes the police help to control the movement of people there to avoid confusion.

Miragaia

The Porto City Hall always sets up a musical stage in the Miragaia area, in front of the old Alfândega do Porto. The place has several bars and restaurants and gets special decoration at this time of the year.

Fountains

Fontainhas is a picturesque area in Porto, located on the bank of the Douro River, near the Infante Bridge. During São João, this neighborhood fills with life and festivity. Carousels are set up, churro stalls are set up, and many street bars sell sardines grilled in front of the customer. The view from the place is the best. From there you can see the two iron bridges: Maria Pia and Luís I.

Portugal is a country rich in traditions and with a charming culture that wins over expatriates from all over the world. If you plan to live in the country, either as a retiree, student or investor, talk to us. Atlantic Bridge will help you in this journey, making your trip tranquil and safe.

*Silvia Resende is a journalist at Atlantic Bridge. From Bahia, she arrived in Portugal in 2015 to build a new life together with her family. She has a degree in Communication from UFBa, in Brazil, and a Master in Communication Sciences from the University of Porto. She has worked as a TV host, reporter, event producer, and tour guide in Porto. She loves to travel and to discover the cultural and natural heritage of each place she goes to. She loves São João in Porto and doesn’t miss it for anything!

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