WHAT: ST JOHN FESTIVITIES (SAO JOAO)
WHERE: PORTO, PORTUGAL
WHEN: 23RD TO 24TH JUNE 2020
COST: FREE TO ATTEND
The official date if the celebration is on the evening of the 23rd June carrying onto the 24th June, but if you are in Porto up to 5 weeks before the festival you will feel the festivity in the air. The festival if St John or Sao Joao in Portuguese is Porto’s largest saint festival and one of the biggest celebrations to be held in Europe. Held in the city of Porto, Portugal it is the most anticipated celebration in the calendar combining sacred and profane traditions along with food, culture, fireworks and much more.
The history of the event dates to the 14th century when it was originally a pagan festival that celebrated the sun god and celebrates abundant crops. Back when it was a pagan festival the celebration had various traditions one of these was to hang leeks on the outside of houses as this was thought to bring good luck, in the recent celebrations you will notice people walking around with a leek flower and touching people’s faces. Other herbs play a part in the rituals as they were used in pagan courtship rituals along with bringing health, good luck and fortune. Some of the more confident Later the Catholic church decided to Christianise it and the celebration became an honour of St John the Baptist, but the rituals were the same along with some new additions of the plastic hammer. Now one of the quirkier traditions that characterizes the St John festival, the plastic hammers are sold all over the city by street vendors and are used for hitting passers-by lightly on the head of everyone you meet along the way.
The highlight of the festival is the night of the 23rd June, the streets are lined with St john’s balloons made of bright coloured paper with larger balloons released painting the skies with hundreds of lights. The buzz of joy from the crowds and the live music along with the entertainment all add to the party atmosphere. Smoke from the many BBQ’s linger in the air as friends and families gather together to enjoy the traditional fayre of grilled sardines, Caldo Verde (a shredded green cabbage soup), chicken and Bifana’s (pork sandwiches) washed down with a glass of good port wine of course. Please note that due to the number of visitors to the festival along with the massive party atmosphere this festival is not one for the faint-hearted.
After enjoying a hearty meal, and a drink or two, the crowds make their way down to the D. Luis Bridge and the banks of the Douro River for the highlight of the festivities. At around midnight the dark skies are lit up in a kaleidoscope of colour and effects as the fireworks begin on the river. Thousands watch in awe as the bright colours burst drawing shapes in the air, this lasts for around 15 minutes in total.
After the fireworks, some revellers head off home, but many make their way on the D. Luiz Bridge to the nearest beach to sit and watch the sunrise. However, with plenty of distractions along the way such as improvised balls where you will be dragged to dance and food corners where you can stop to refuel on food and drink if you so wish this may be easier said than done.
The following day and one of the quieter days of the festival the Regatta of Rabelo Boats in the Douro river takes place. These beautiful boats are from days gone by when they were used to transport Port wine.
This is a festival that you should put on your bucket list and see both the traditional and quirky sides of the Portuguese festival of St John.