Globetrotting: São João Festival

by Andrea on June 23, 2011

UPDATE: The holiday of  São João is tomorrow, but the party is still tonight.

What would you say if I told you there was a religious festival where you could stay up all night walking around the city, hit strangers on the head with plastic hammers, light up sky lanterns, eat grilled sardines on the streets, and watch a kickass fireworks display?

Sign you up?  Well, get your globetrotting tushy over to Porto, Portugal because today is São João, and there is one major party taking place!

So a little background, São João, or Saint John, is the patron saint of Porto.  Once a year, the city takes a holiday and celebrates all that São João has done for the city and its people.  Being the fun-loving celebrators that they are, the people of Porto have turned this religious festival into one big party.  The best part is that it’s for everyone.  Little kids and Grannies are amongst the revelers who are up into the wee hours of the night walking around and hitting people on the head with plastic hammers.  I have absolutely no clue where the plastic hammer tradition comes from.  However, I’m willing to bet $5 it has nothing to do with São João or the Bible.

Another tradition that is particular to this festival or festa (there are literally hundreds of these patron saint festivals in each little village, hamlet, and city in Portugal), is that people light large sky lanterns and let them fly away.  Imagine a paper hot air balloon with no people inside and not quite that big.

Why sardines?  Probably just because Porto has a very strong fishing tradition.  People will set up their little charcoal grills outside their homes and grill up sardines. As a tourist, you can easily get some at restaurants in the area. It’s not São João if you’re not eating grilled sardines for dinner.

Finally, FIREWORKS!  (eeeee!)  The Douro River originates in Spain and empties out into the ocean in Porto. One side of the river is Porto and the other side is Vila Nova de Gaia.  People will line both sides of the river in the Ribeira section of town and enjoy a great display with fireworks being set from the river and the Dão Luis bridge.

Have I convinced you to go?  I know it’s a wee bit short notice, but there’s always time to start preparing for next year!

images via various places: hammer, lantern, sardines, fireworks

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