Viva São João!!! June is the time for Festas Juninas in Brazil. In June Brazil is full of bonfires, all kinds of delicious corn-based dishes are being cooked, and everyone is getting ready to dance forró all night long. In Northeastern Brazil, São João or Festas Juninas are as huge as Carnival.
What are Festas Juninas or São João?
Festas Juninas are festivities that take place in June. In Portuguese, June = junho. That is where the name juninas come from.
The festivities celebrate three saints: Santo Antônio on June 13th, São João Batista on June 24th, and São Pedro on June 29th.
Santo Antônio is known as the santo casamenteiro (matchmaker) and this is why Valentine’s day in Brazil, which we call Dia dos Namorados, is celebrated in June.
However, the biggest celebration of Festas Juninas is São João on June 24th. The date is so importante that it is a holiday in some places in Brazil, as in the state of Pernambuco, for instance.
Festas Juninas are native to Northeastern Brazil, but nowadays there are celebrations all over the country.
São João Festivities Vocabulary and Traditions
The space where the São João party is held is called arraial, also known as arraiá, as the matutos would say it.
Another common word used in the festivities is roça, which means a plantation field or rural area. The São João parties happen no arraial or na roça.
Matuto is a person from the countryside, from a rural area. The São João outfit typically includes straw hats and plaid shirts, the stereotypical look of rural folks in Brazil.
Women commonly dress in a vestido de Chita. Vestido means dress. Chita is a traditional Brazilian fabric, typically colorful and flowery, that is popular in house accessories, decoration, and also for clothing and fashion.
You cannot have a Festa de São João without a bonfire = fogueira. We grill cheese and corn on the cob in the bonfire.
Bandeirinhas (little flags) are seen everywhere as they are the most traditional decoration in Festas Juninas. Balões (balloons) are also a São João tradition. The singular is balão and it is a masculine noun.
The typical São João music is forró. Thousands of people travel to the biggest São João celebrations to dance forró, watch live concerts, and have a ton of fun.
The most famous São João festivities are in Campina Grande, in the state of Paraíba, and Caruaru, in the state of Pernambuco.
Every São João party needs to have a quadrilha, which is a square dance characteristic of Festas Juninas. There are huge quadrilha competitions with very elaborate outfits and choreographies.
Fogos de artifício (fireworks) are also a staple of São João festivities. In Recife, where I grew up, you hear fireworks basically daily throughout the month of June.
São João Food
How about São João food? June is the time for corn-based foods in Brazil. You simply cannot have a São João party without canjica, pamonha and lots of milho (corn).
In the picture below, pamonha is the one in center, wrapped and resembling a tamale, although they are not the same. Canjica is the one in the small plastic containers.
If you google “receita de canjica nordestina” or “receita de pamonha”, you will find great videos.
Canjica is how we call it in Região Nordeste (Brazil’s northeast region). In other parts of the country, they call it curau and they know something else as canjica.
There are also many cakes that are traditional during Festas Juninas, such as bolo pé de moleque, bolo Souza Leão, bolo de macaxeira, bolo de milho, and more.
I hope you get to celebrate Festas Juninas in northeastern Brazil and experience this rich cultural tradition and all the joy that comes with it.