When June starts, the weather cools. If you close your eyes, you can smell the corn candies in the air, the heat of the fire warming your skin and the joyous rhythm of the accordion inviting you to dance. On the streets, in churches, at schools, the decoration indicates: it’s June Festival time!
One of the most beloved popular festivals in Brazil, which takes place every June, will not be celebrated this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the situation still not under control in the country, high rates of hospital bed occupancy, delayed vaccination and the imminence of a third wave of cases, Brazilians will spend their second year in a row without this traditional celebration.
Never heard about the June Festival? Are you curious to discover their traditions and customs? Or do you know, love and miss it – just like us -? Anyway, braid your hair, grab your straw hat and enjoy this arraial!
Brazil is a diverse and mixed country and our traditions are a reflection of that. The June Festival has its origins in Antiquity, when, during the summer solstice (June 21), European peoples worshiped fertility and asked for plenty in their harvest. As it failed to end this pagan ritual, the Catholic Church included the commemoration in its festivities and the celebration acquired a religious character, worshiping the holy figures of Santo Antônio (06/13), São João (06/24) and São Pedro (06/29).
In Brazil, the tradition arrived in the country in the 16th century during the colonization period. However, the indigenous that lived here also held their own celebrations in June, with typical food, music and dances to prepare the ground for new planting.
Mixing mainly Portuguese and indigenous traditions and some aspects of the Brazilian society that was being formed, the June Festival lost its strong religious character and gained the unique contours of celebration in the country’s popular culture.
To decorate the June Festival, there’s no mistake: little flags, immortalized in paintings by the painter Alfredo Volpi (1896-1988), and paper ornaments make up the game and food stands. Cheap colored fabrics with the most different prints cover the tables. The bonfire is also essential. In some places, people try to jump over fire without getting burned.
The June Festival is associated with rural life. This is because most Brazilians lived in the countryside until the second half of the 20th century. Colorful chita dresses, a ribbon in hair and a straw hat make the outfit. And the classic checkered shirt is practically mandatory! In Rio Grande do Sul, pilcha – the typical gaucho clothing – is more traditional.
- Foods and drinks
A good party needs good food, and in this regard, the June Festival doesn’t disappoint. Based mainly on the grains cultivated by the indigenous, such as corn and peanuts, the menu is extensive: corn on the cob, popcorn, corn cake, pamonha, canjica, curau, paçoca, pé de moleque… phew! And a lot of other options. There’s also tasty and well-known drinks such as mulled wine – that add flavor to the celebration.
In each region, foods are given different names, which can cause some confusion. For example, in the northeast, mungunzá is a sweet made with corn, milk and sugar, and canjica is a corn porridge. In the south and southeast, what northeastern people call mungunzá is called canjica, and northeastern canjica becomes curau. Confused, right? But that’s ok, no matter what you order, you certainly won’t regret it.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a kid anymore, you’ll definitely have fun at the June Festival. As in an amusement park, several tents with games entertain people. The best known are fishing, hitting the clown’s mouth and knocking over a pile of cans.
Another traditional game is the pau de sebo. Also brought by the Portuguese, this game consists of trying to climb a stick quite high to reach a prize at the top. To make the challenge more difficult, the stick is smeared with oil, making the participants slip easily.
Also, love is in the air. June is the month of Valentine’s Day in Brazil. In addition, Santo Antônio, one of the honorees, is known as the matchmaker saint. To help you reach your crush, the elegant mail is the way. You can send a love note to the person you care about.
- Music and dance
The typical dance of the June Festival is square dance. It has French origins and was also brought by the colonization process. The most successful rhythm is forró. Big names like Luiz Gonzaga can’t be missing and his accordion puts everyone to dance. Recently, the sertanejo, the most popular rhythm in the countryside, has also gained space at the party.
- “The greatest São João in the world”
The dispute between who makes the biggest June Festival is fierce between the cities of Campina Grande – Paraíba, and Caruaru – Pernambuco. With a large structure and the duration of approximately one month, the Festivals, together, receive around 5 million visitors a year and move between R$ 175 million and R$ 200 million of reais (US$ 34,1 million and US$ 39 million dollars) in each city.
Another big party that takes place in June is the Parintins Folklore Festival. In the northern region, as well as in Maranhão, the party is different and it’s closely linked to the figure of boi bumbá, which is part of Brazilian folklore. In Amazonas, the celebration in Parintins is marked by a competition between two oxen: the Caprichoso and the Garantido. The event brings together thousands of tourists every year.
For the second year in a row, all these events were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic, from the biggest festivals to the simplest in schools and churches in any neighborhood. In addition to the financial loss of many artists and workers involved in major events, the lack of the June Festival represents the loss of a space to socialize, meet our friends and celebrate Brazilian culture.
In order to make up for the lost time, there will be online transmission of some shows of São João de Campina Grande on Youtube. For now, we follow from afar, dreaming of soon being able to light the fire and dance to the sound of the accordion until the sun comes up.
The article above was edited by Bárbara Vetos.
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