Festa Junina in Brazil

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Did you know that after Carnival, Festa Junina is the second most important popular celebration in Brazilian culture? Let’s learn more about these traditional festivities in Brazil.

festa junina colorful background with garlands

Festa Junina is the term used to describe the traditional festivities that happen at the beginning of the Brazilian winter in June. It is a month to commemorate some of the most famous saints for Catholics; namely Saint Anthony, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Peter. It is also a month to honor rain, the harvest season and marital union. Visitors celebrate from mid-June until the end of July and in some cities, festivities even continue until late August. Those attending will be treated to typical Brazilian food, will dress up like farmers, enjoy bonfires and dance the quadrilha.

The Origins

Festa Junina’s origins date back to Portuguese colonization, and the holiday has developed over time to incorporate Brazilian cultural elements. The culture of indigenous populations, Afro-Brazilians and European immigrants has all influenced how the festivities are held in different regions in Brazil. First originating in the countryside, where most religious people lived and where they relied more on rain for their agriculture, the festivities quickly spread to larger cities all around the country. Every region has its own way of celebrating, but the most impressive festivities and dances take place in the North East.

Typical Cuisine

As June is the month when corn crops are harvested, the majority of sweet and savory snacks and cakes are made of corn. A few popular examples include pamonha, canjica, corn on the cob and corn cakes. In addition, rice pudding, sweet potatoes and much more are also included on the Festa Junina menu.

Typical Dances

Quadrilha folk dances are a vital component of Festa Junina. Dances involve up to 30 colorfully dressed performers, while a chosen ‘bride and groom’ act as the center of the spectacle. Inspiration is taken from the 17th century French quadrilles, a type of traditional square dance. Everyone participates by singing traditional songs. Vibrant and highly convivial, these jovial dances are without a doubt the highlight of the Festa Junina.

Luis Gonzaga, locally known as ‘o rei do Baião’, is still a very popular artist and it is his songs that get played the most during Festa Juninas. Typical instruments include the triangle and the accordion.

Traditional Clothing

The typical clothes worn at the Festa Junina are inspired by vintage rural fashion as the themes of harvest and rain are central to the festivities. Young men wear shorts with braces, while women put their hair up in ponytails, wear checkered dresses and paint freckles on their faces.

In the Northeast of Brazil

Even though the festivities are held all around the country, it is in the Northeast that they are the most popular and impressive. The month of June is when people give thanks to the three Catholic saints; Santo Antônio on the 13th, São João on the 24th and São Pedro on the 29th.

As droughts are a serious issue in the region, all ‘nordestinos’, the people from the Northeast, celebrate the rain which is essential to their agriculture. Groups of people, called ‘festeiros’, come together to animate the streets, walking and singing across the cities.

In the Southeast of Brazil

People in the Southeast of the country are known for the events organized by the local community of businesses, churches, and schools. Festivities hold clear similarities to those in the rest of the country, as individuals run various stands with either food or games and quadrilha dances are enacted to entertain visitors.

The Bonfire

The bonfire is also a traditional element expected at every Festa Junina. The ritual of gathering around a large flame derives from pagan tradition, as this custom is practiced to commemorate the summer solstice in the northern hemisphere each year. June can be a cold month, especially in the South, and by congregating around the warmth of the fire, the festival’s focus on community building is further emphasized.

Festa Junina Vocabulary

Arraial or arraiá = the space where the São João party is held.

Roça = plantation; rural area.
= A good São João party needs to have a bonfire where we grill cheese and corn on the cob.
= Little flags are the typical São João decoration.
= The square dance is very traditional in Festa Junina. Today there are huge quadrilha competitions.

Balões = Sky lanterns are also a traditional decoration during Festas Junina.

Fogos de artifício = Fireworks are very popular during São João.

Música sertaneja e folclórica = People dance country/folk music during Festa Junina.

Barracas / barraquinhas = People play games and eat typical food in the tents. The most common games are easy fishing (pescaria), big mouth toss (boca do palhaço), ring toss (argola), greasy pole (pau de sebo), six ball roll down (canaleta) e bingo (bingo).

Comidas típicas = Some typical foods are barbecue (churrasco), candy apple or toffee apple (maçã do amor), corn on the cob (espiga de milho), popcorn (pipoca), peanut brittle (pé de moleque) and sweet corn cake (bolo de milho verde).

Bebidas Típicas = The two most typical drinks are called quentão and vinho quente (mulled wine or hot punch), composed of cachaça and wine.

Click here to watch a video about Festa Junina with subtitles in Portuguese.

Adapted from: https://theculturetrip.com

Image credits: <a href=”https://br.freepik.com/fotos-vetores-gratis/fundo”>Fundo vetor criado por starline – br.freepik.com</a>

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