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“São João”: What is this celebration that happens every June in Brazil?

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Casper Libero chapter.

As June rolls around in Brazil, there’s a palpable sense of excitement in the air. Streets are adorned with colorful decorations, the scent of traditional foods fills the air, and music reverberates through towns and cities alike. This can only mean one thing: São João is here.

São João, also known as the Festas Juninas (June Festivals), is a celebration deeply rooted in Brazilian culture, blending Catholic traditions with indigenous and Afro-Brazilian influences. Originally honoring Saint John the Baptist, São João has evolved into a vibrant festival that marks the winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere and pays homage to rural life.

The Origins of “São João”

Historically, São João began as a way for Brazilian communities to celebrate the harvest season. It originates in the European Midsummer festivals, brought to Brazil by Portuguese colonizers in the 16th century. Over the centuries, it merged with indigenous and African traditions, evolving into a unique celebration that reflects Brazil’s diverse cultural heritage. The festival honors Saint John the Baptist, whose feast day is on June 24th, and also pays homage to Saints Anthony and Peter, celebrated on June 13th and June 29th, respectively.

The Festivities

The heart of São João lies in its vibrant street parties, known as “arraiás“. These gatherings are characterized by an array of traditional activities:

1. Quadrilha dance

A lively folk dance that mimics a rural wedding procession. Participants dress in colorful, patchwork outfits, often depicting exaggerated rural characters, and perform coordinated, playful dance routines.

2. Bonfires and fireworks

Bonfires are lit to symbolize the warmth and light of the summer solstice, while fireworks illuminate the night sky, adding to the festive atmosphere.

3. Traditional foods

The festival is a feast for the senses, offering an array of delicious traditional foods. Corn-based dishes, such as pamonha (sweet corn paste), canjica (corn pudding), and bolo de milho (corn cake), are staples, along with quentão (a hot spiced drink made with cachaça) and vinho quente (hot wine).

4. Games and activities

São João is also known for its traditional games and activities, such as the pau-de-sebo (a greased pole-climbing contest), and playful activities like sack races and ring tosses.

Cultural Significance

São João is more than just a celebration, it’s a cultural phenomenon that brings communities together. In rural areas, particularly in the Northeast of Brazil, São João is one of the most anticipated events of the year. It serves as a time for people to honor their agricultural roots, as June also marks the end of the corn harvest.

The festival’s emphasis on rural life, community, and tradition creates a sense of nostalgia and pride among Brazilians. It is a time for families and friends to gather, enjoy each other’s company, and celebrate their shared heritage. From the rhythmic “quadrilha” dances to the delicious traditional foods, the festival is a sensory feast that brings communities together in joy and celebration. Whether in a small rural town or a bustling urban center, São João is a time to honor tradition, revel in the present, and look forward to a future filled with light and festivity.

So, as June goes by, let us join in the revelry of São João and embrace the spirit of Brazil’s beloved Festas Juninas. Let’s dance, feast, and celebrate in true Brazilian style, creating memories that will last a lifetime. 

Here are some places that you can visit and experience this incredible party!


The article above was edited by Ana Beatriz Aith.

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Ana Carolina Teixeira

Casper Libero '25

A young audiovisual enthusiast who writes about life, books, movies and much more in the spare time!