Haven’t you heard? Brazil is a very lively country… you can see the joy in people’s eyes when they dance, party, eat or how they move around to the tiniest bit of music. People are full of life in this beautiful country.
So it comes as no surprise that they like to celebrate. One of the largest and most important celebrations held annually is Festa Junina, taking place in June in most places across the country, but also in July and August in other places. The Festa is part of the identity and DNA of the Brazilian nation, and something you definitely want to be a part of.
Figure 1: Campina Grande Festa Junina in Brazil. Credit: Wikipedia
The Festa Junina has its roots in the celebration of three Catholic Saints: São Antônio (Saint Anthony), São João (Saint John) and São Pedro (Saint Peter), which are an inheritance from the Portuguese settlers. The Portuguese brought the first celebration of this kind to Brazil, which marries with the original settlers’ tradition of honouring the rain and harvest season. With these two major influences, the Festa Junina was born, and has created its own identity.
Festa Junina is celebrated all over the country. The biggest and more traditional events take place in the area known as the interior, outside major cities, traditionally in the north east and south east of Brazil. Each of the regions make these major ‘parties’ their own, adapting the local customs and combining religious, popular and folklore elements that make them stand out from the rest; no Festa Junina is the same.
As you make your way into the traditional straw tents set for the occasion, you can smell and feel the essence of the Brazilian culture - music, dance, joy and of course incredible food.
Figure 2: Food and games stalls outside a church in Festa Junina. Credit: Wikimedia
How do Brazilians celebrate Festa Junina?
In general, the celebration is set around town churches, given the religious roots, and traditionally a big straw tent is put in place. People dress as farmers and this is to represent the harvest. Bonfires are set to keep people warm, and some even have fireworks.
Funfair style traditional games are aplenty. There is also mail delivery Correio elegante where secret messages are sent amongst the people attending, and much more.
Food is a key element to this celebration. In Brazil, at this time of year, corn is harvested, which is the most important ingredient in the region. Some of the traditional food eaten is: camonha, canjica, corn on the cob, corn cakes, rice pudding and Brazilian sweet potatoes, just to name a few. As for drinks, the Brazilians have their own version of mulled wine vinho quente, made with local ingredients.
The highlight of the Festa Junina is the dance. This is no surprise as, after all, Brazil is home of the Samba. The dance performed at the Festa Junina tends to be quite different, though. Called quadrilha, it has its origins in France in the 1800s. It is in a kind of country style with a Brazilian twist. Up to 30 people can be involved, dressed in traditional clothes. Typically, a couple is chosen to be the bride and groom and it revolves around them. A short play is put on stage to prepare the audience for the dance, telling the love story of the couple.
Figure 3: Quadrilha at Festa Junina. Credit: Wikimedia
Where to go
In most places in Brazil there will be Festa Junina celebrations, though there are some known to be more traditional and popular. Brazilians make their way to different locations to celebrate this time of year.
Campina Grande claims to have the biggest São João celebration in the world. For 30 days the city is decorated to welcome visitors. Over 200 stalls are set and performances are held throughout the celebration.
Caruaru - a recreation of a traditional village is set to welcome visitors. Its architecture is a replica of the cities of the interior with simple houses, shops and restaurants that represent the daily life of people in the Brazilian countryside.
Sudeste (Southeast): The Junina celebrations take place throughout the state of São Paulo, around the bonfires outside parishes, town squares, schools or even factories. The programme is vast, and it carries on to July.
The two major cities in the country, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, hold celebrations of Festa Junina as well, showcasing the best of the Brazilian interior.
Figure 4: Festa Junina, Brazil. Credit: Flickr/ Cecilia Heinen
A local’s perspective
Mayra Putini, a Brazilian from Bueno Brandão, a small city just 165 KM from São Paulo, told SmartExpat why is the Festa Junina so important for the Brazilians: “It is an essential part of our culture: the traditions of the people of the interior.” She also told us what she likes best about the celebration “In my home city, the Festa Junina is actually Julina (in July). What I love the most is the roots music, the traditional clothes and watching the dance performances… and of course the food. There are no words that can fully describe it, quite honestly.”
Bueno Brandão is famous for its water springs which have curative attributes, and Mayra shared with us how the Festa Junina started in her city: “I think about 100 years ago, a man who collected rubbish and was very poor gathered all he had and shared with the people of our town. He was so humble and simple but within his possibilities he gave what he had to others. The man died but the celebration remains to this day. It gets very busy as we are so close to São Paulo people travel here for the special occasion.”
And it’s this close connection with the past, with the land, the culture, and life in general, that makes Festa Junina so special.