Going back in time to understand the origin of these festivities, this celebration was made to celebrate the summer solstice as a pagan commemoration. Only later, in the end of the XIV century, the Catholic Church christianized the party in commemoration of St. John, the patron saint.
St John is celebrated throughout Europe and in Brazil, but it is in Portugal that you’ll find more expression in this celebration. The two main cities to take it very seriously are Braga and, of course, Oporto. Commemorated on the evening of the 23rd of June, São João became Oporto’s main festival and you can still prove it by your own if you have the chance to visit the city during these days.
From the youngest to the oldest, everyone will come outside their houses to celebrate Oporto’s major street festival. This very popular festivity gathers locals with visitors and the city centre streets get obviously filled with happiness, music, food, drinks, colorful fest decorations and so on…!
Locals will barbecue sardines, which is the celebration’s typical dish, on the streets so you can smell it all over the places. Mostly, people eat the sardinhas with boiled potatoes, pepper salad and corn bread, called broa. There’s also a very portuguese typical cabbage soup, the caldo verde. And, of course, to help the swallowing and the dance moves, St. John’s celebrators will drink portuguese good wines!
You will find other significant symbols in the city over these days. The ancestral cult of flora brought to this attractive celebration two diferent and meaningful plants. The sweet basil, usually offered to the beloved ones, can be found in every corner of the street and is sold in ornamented pots and with popular rhymes about the saint, the festival or even lubricous intentions. They say the plant dies if you smell it directly with your nose, so it is told that you should smell it using your hand. The other plant is the leek, which is mainly used to beat everyone’s head, even the unknow ones!
Also used for the head hittings, in the 20th century, the owner of a plastic factory in Oporto invented the plastic hammer that you’ll find all over the city.
During the night, people launch hot air ballons into the sky wich provides a very beautiful scene in the air and, around midnight, there’s a spectacular firework display over the city’s river, rio Douro, that lasts about 15 minutes.
This is considered the best night in Oporto!