Festa de São João do Porto

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The Praça da Ribeira, in Porto, during São João.

Every year, on the night of 23 June, the city of Porto, in the north of Portugal, becomes lively and seemingly crazy. Thousands of people come to the city centre and to the most traditional neighborhoods to pay a tribute to Saint John the Baptist, in a party that mixes sacred and profane traditions.[1]

The festivities have been held in the city for more than six centuries, yet it was during the 19th century that Saint John's day became impregnated in the city's culture and assumed the status of the city's most important festival.[2] An interesting tradition among the people of Porto during the 'Festa de São João', with roots in pagan courtship rituals, is to hit each other either with garlic flowers or soft plastic hammers.[3]

In June 2004, a journalist from The Guardian commented that "Porto's Festa de São João is one of Europe's liveliest street festivals, yet it is relatively unknown outside the country".[4]

In fact, the party starts early in the afternoon of 23 June and usually lasts until the morning of 24 June. The traditional attractions of the night include street concerts, popular dancing parties, jumping over flames, eating barbecued sardines and meat, drinking wine and releasing illuminated flame-propelled balloons over Porto's summer sky.[5]

At midnight, the partygoers make a short break to look at the sky at Saint John's firework spectacle. The show is increasingly sophisticated with the fireworks being associated with themes and multimedia shows. The party has sacred roots but is also mixed with pagan traditions, with the fireworks embodying the spirit of tribute to the Sun.[6]

One could expect the firework to be the climax and mark the end of the festivities. Yet, it is quite common for citizens of Porto, with all ages, to keep celebrating until 3 or 4 in the morning, and younger people take it even a step further until the first hours in the morning. They walk from Porto's riverside core - Ribeira (for instance the parish of São Nicolau (Porto)- up to the seaside in Foz (parishes of Foz do Douro and Nevogilde (Porto)) or in the nearby suburb of Matosinhos where they wait for the sunrise near the sea, and sometimes, take a bath in the ocean.

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