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São João Festivities

The São João Festivities in Porto take place annually on June 24th in honor of the São João Baptista. This is considered the longest night of the year, as its celebration starts on the night of June 23rd until the 24th.

The atmosphere of celebration is felt throughout the city, not only by the odors, but also by its decoration.

The festival is all over the city, but the real excitement is in the oldest neighborhoods in the city, such as Fontainhas, Ribeira and Miragaia.

1. History

The origin of this festival dates back to the 14th century and is of pagan origin, marking the summer solstice, that is, the longest day of the year, which was also associated with the fertility and joy of the abundant harvests. Like other pagan feasts, this date is Christianized, joining this celebration with the birthdate of Saint John the Baptist.

The party began in the Middle Ages, when the Popular Saints began to be celebrated. The main festivals are Santo António (on the 13th), São João (on the 24th) and São Pedro (on the 29th), all in June and the Catholic festivities begin in Portugal. The 24th is celebrated by the Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican churches.

To understand the importance of this June celebration, it is necessary to know who João Baptista was. The Saint is known as Saint John the Precursor, according to the Orthodox Church, because Saint John the Baptist was a prophet who predicted the advent of the Messiah in the person of Jesus Christ and baptized him. But also, he was the only saint, whose birth and martyrdom date (August 29th) are evoked in two solemnities by Christians. This prophet has a symbolic image, mainly for his red robe, pink tunic, raised right hand, shell and lamb:

Red Cloak: Symbolizes his death, as he was a martyr for justice and truth.

Pink Tunic: Symbol of your main personal characteristics - austerity and fasting.

Right hand raised: Symbol of preaching in the Jordan River. The role as a preacher was extremely important in terms of conversion, penance and forgiveness.

São João’s Shell: The shell is on the left side and symbolizes his role as a baptizer.

Lamb: Symbol of the pennant message and Jesus Christ who announced it.

2. Traditions

In the days of pagan feast, there was a tradition of hanging a leek on the wall of the house for luck, as the plants were seen with healing and supernatural abilities. Nowadays the tradition has changed, and leeks are walking in the streets and they pass in people's faces.

In terms of Manjerico, it also has a strong symbolism in this festival, for its therapeutic qualities, but similar to the leek because they bring health and luck. The symbolism of this plant and its great importance in this celebration, is linked to fertility, because it is said that it is a plant that blesses love. Therefore, it was a plant offered by the boys to their girlfriends.

One of the main characteristics associated with São João in Porto, is the sale and purchase of Martelinhos, which serve to hit the head of all those who pass by on the street. These plastic artifacts are doubly noisy as they have loud bellows ends and whistles at the tip. These artefacts were created in 1963, by Fábrica Estrela do Paraíso in Rio Tinto, by industrialist Manuel António Boaventura. The objective arises in the initiative to create a toy in addition to the range that the factory already had. In the year of creation, university students went to the factory, as they needed “a noisy toy” for Queima das Fitas. Due to its enormous success, it also started to be requested for the biggest Festa Joanina in the city.

The bonfires are placed on the streets by the people and they jump over them, as a symbol of courage and belief in the purifying qualities of fire, both in health and in marriage.

S. João’s balloons are made of paper, in various colors, some of the balloons serve only as a decoration while others are launched into the sky. These balloons on the night of the 23rd illuminated the sky, however since 2019 due to the severity of fires in Portugal, their launching is no longer allowed.

Fireworks are launched at midnight on June 24th, where the sky is fully lit, especially next to the D. Luís I bridge. The river banks are filled with people to admire this event.

The Sanjoaninas Waterfalls are one of the main attractions of the festivities. They started in the 19th century, when the holy family and the wise men were replaced by popular saints and a waterfall was placed. There are other important symbols in the waterfalls, such as the Cathedral of Oporto, Torre dos Clérigos, Douro River, fishermen, rabelo boats, bridges, among many other aspects that characterize the city.

It is important to know that these cascades at the beginning included few elements. Thus, the children asked for a penny, as they intended to see the waterfall grow and thus be able to buy more figures each year.

A tradition and curiosity also for this celebration, is in the dawn of the 24th of June, where the youngest walk along the marginal of Ribeira to Foz do Douro or Matosinhos on foot and wait for the sunrise. To know that they are about 9 km traveled by the riverside area, where stops are made along the way in the typical neighborhoods, where the popular dancers take place.

On June 24th, there is the famous Regatta of the Rabelos Boats, in which the picturesque boats sail from Foz do Douro to D. Luís bridge, where they compete for first place. After going up the river, the prizes are delivered at the Vila Nova de Gaia pier, in front of Casa Sandeman, maintaining the celebrations. The organizer of this event is the Confraria do Vinho do Porto, to promote not only Port Wine, but also brands.

3. Gastronomy

On the night of S. João, one of the most popular flavors and smells is that of sardines roasted over hot coals. There are other dishes that complement this food, such as grilled peppers, green stock and fresh salad. For those who want to eat a meat dish, the ribs are usually grilled or you can choose to have steaks on bread. These dishes are quite simple, as the party usually begins to be celebrated on the street, making it easier to eat.

In terms of drink, red wine, Super Bock beer and the traditional Port Wine are usually chosen.

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