The celebrations begin in early June and the origins of this feast date back to pagan times, a time when Christianity had not yet arrived in the city. St. John the Baptist is the most popular saint of Porto, just as Saint Anthony is in Lisbon. The month of June also has the longest day and the shortest night of the year, so this beautiful party is celebrated on the night of the 23rd to the 24th of June.
I arrived in the city of Porto in June 2018, witnessing a crowd of tourists in the central areas, but also a peaceful city that does not hide its charm and its color, just waiting to be discovered and admired by the visitors. Many streets were already beautifully decorated for the festivities of St. John, something so authentic, certainly one of the most beautiful traditions that I have ever witnessed throughout Europe.
As I walked through the old town, I smelled roasted sardines on every corner and the felt the "New Year's Eve" atmosphere in the air. Something big was about to happen! I will give you some tips on how to enjoy this incredibly special time in the city of Porto, which I chose to be my home for the next years.
Get used to the hammering on your head:
This tradition began in the 1960s, after the success of plastic hammers in a famous event among college students in the month of May: the burning of ribbons (a Queima das Fitas)! These objects replace the use of traditional leek branches (known in Portugal as alho-porro). This plant is associated with the abundance that the fertile land provides in the summer months. During the shortest night of the year, you should have your plastic hammer in hand to participate in the games. If someone hammers your head, you have the right to hammer this person's head back. It is a funny tradition, by the interaction between the revelers and by the noises emitted by this colorful object.
Allow yourself to observe the details on the streets:
Portugal is a country full of history and incredible details, and the creativity of its people makes each region have its traditions and festivities. In Porto, the "Cascades of St. John" are a kind of Christmas crib, and each parish of the city strives to make beautiful scenarios that celebrate the abundance and joy of this feast that bears the name of a Catholic saint. Despite this, this party does not have a strong religious meaning, being something done by the residents for all who pass there. The most magical thing about St. John's is that everyone is welcome, and everyone can have fun.
Fire is a key element in this feast:
Dropping a papier-mâché balloon tonight is a much-loved attraction among the younger and all those who want to leave a trail of light on the shortest night of the year. In addition to the balloons that illuminate the porto sky, there is a pyrotechnic show that lasts about twenty minutes by the river. The best places to observe are Ribeira or Cais de Gaia, on the opposite river bank. These areas have a privileged panorama for the Douro River and the Luís I Bridge, an icon of the city of Porto, from where a cascade of fireworks appears at midnight. Unfortunately, these areas are quite crowded and you need to like crowds and be patient when crossing the bridge after the show. Despite the surprising pyrotechnics, fire is a fundamental element in this festival, as it symbolizes the warmth and light of the summer months. The ancient pagans lit large bonfires and celebrated the night around it.
Poetry and Manjericos? "Wine" not?
Manjerico (Ocimum minimum) is an aromatic plant that cannot be missing during the month of June. It is marketed in many markets and fairs, and tradition says that you can not smell them directly, but rather touch them gently and smell their aroma in the palm of your hand. Its rounded shape is another typical feature. There is another popular story that says that the manjerico must be presented to someone to attract luck in that person's life. I found a quite beautiful tradition, because in addition to reinforcing the spirit of community that already existed in pagan times, there are small poems that are also delivered in colorful pieces of paper along with the vases.
The food is different, but leaves nothing to be desired
After a few days in Portugal, I already knew that I would eat very well for the next years. It is impossible not to delight in the most varied Portuguese delicacies, whether the sweets based on sweet egg yolk cream, or the salty ones like the bifanas. Porto are also known as "tripeiros" and the diet of this region is rich in meat and seasonings. We also celebrate St. John in Brazil, an inheritance brought from Portugal, but we eat and prepare more recipes based on corn, such as pamonha and caldo de milho verde (green corn broth). In Porto, I recommend the caldo verde com choriço (green broth with chorizo) or delight a good sardine next to your friends (everyone becomes your friend in that night, especially after some good drinks).
I am sure you'll have wonderful stories to tell after attending this magical and exciting party. The month of June is a great time to know the "Undefeated City" and the welcoming essence of Porto. Take the opportunity to know the best of Porto and I assure you that your experience here is better every day, as well as the famous wine that ages here.