Who said that here in Porto we don’t know how to throw a good party? Huh? If anyone dares to think such a preposterous thing, we’d encourage them to come to spend São João night (June 23rd) here with us and see how it’s really done! The next-day hangover will speak for itself!!
A well-known Portuguese saying states that “Porto works, Braga Prays, Coimbra studies, and Lisbon gets the money”. Giving our city the hard-working reputation, it indeed deserves. We’re all proud of how dedicated we are to our jobs and careers, sure… until the single most spectacular occasion of the entire year comes around, and the whole city lets its hair down and hits the town! It’s São João do Porto, everyone!!! Work can wait until the morning!
Right, let’s get all cultural and share some knowledge. São João, as surprising as this may seem, actually symbolizes a religious celebration. Since its beginnings, the event has had Christian roots, mixed with a lil’ twist of pagan traditions as well. São João is a celebration charged with emotion and power, and it’s been around for literally as long as anyone can remember.
The ancient São João rituals, way back in the day, commemorated the summer solstice (the shortest night of the year) and the arrival of our favorite season!! People waited all year to pay tribute to the sun using the power of fire. Lighting fires, and bonfires, they worshipped and guided the sun through this special night.
This symbolic and memorable event can be summed up as: bonfires, fireworks and quirky paraphernalia. In ancient times, all this represented the empowerment of the sun, in preparation for the long summer days ahead.
The Roman Catholic Church at some point embraced this festivity in honor of San Juan (Saint John), meaning that the ceremony has now become a sort of worldwide historical patrimony, whether it’s perceived within a religious sense, or not!
São João: A True Sensation
As we like to say here, the São João fiesta is the beating heart of Porto. We treat it as if it were a second New Year’s Night, in the middle of the year! It’s the most special, unique and breathtakingly awesome time of year to experience. The whole city comes together to revel in awe at the warm and bubbly sensations of São João, that flow through every street and every household.
Our brilliant staff at Cats Porto can certainly tell us a thing or two about what this time of year really means for the people of Porto. “It is the most powerful and celebrated festivity that our city has ever seen, without a shadow of a doubt. You can feel and breathe the anticipation in the streets during the days coming up to the event, when people are preparing for what they know will be the best time of the year. Joy fills the air, along with the desire to take to the streets, eat, drink and share memories with our favorite people until the sun comes up… We’re out until all hours and until every single one of our problems is forgotten”. Sounds MAGNETIC!
The fun-for-all traditions that take place strictly during São João are something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. Let’s get a little more familiar with them so you can start getting excited for the amazing times ahead! Let’s do this!
São João means being outside. The streets become the official venue and home to this incredible fiesta. During the long evening hours, small festivities and parties (known as ‘festarolas’) are held on every street corner throughout the city’s different neighborhoods. The ‘ruas’ of Porto fill with laughter, dancing and drinking as the sun goes down. Everyone is thrilled to bring in the summer with their loved ones to the tune of the best live music, and obviously the tastiest food. A typical menu for these festivities would be: sardines, different meats, and roasted peppers. Oh and wine, all the wine! Just follow the cheerful sounds and the smell of barbeque and bonfires and you’ll find what you’re looking for!! Our tummies are already rrrrrubling just thinking about it!!
A very important – and super cute – element of Porto’s São João festivities is the giving and receiving of ‘manjericos’. You kinda have to live it to really get it, which we hope you get the chance to! People decorate their homes and the streets with Porto’s typical small ‘manjerico’ (basil plants) plantpots. These ‘manjericos’ are usually dotted with tiny messages of love. In the olden days, youngsters used to give them to their partners as a token of their love. This is still a withstanding tradition to this day, which we think is pretty sweet!
São João Lanterns
Ok, so we may or may not have borrowed this stunning custom from China. During São João, everyone releases beautiful paper lanterns that float into the night’s sky with a little candle lighting the way. It’s one of the purest and exquisite sights for any eyes, we’re sure you are all familiar with this one. Once the sun has set and the city has plunged into darkness, these little lanterns take to the skies, reflecting in the Douro River and creating a picture-perfect moment to treasure forever.
‘Martelos de São João’
Now, this is one for the books. Ever heard of the ‘martelos’ de São João? They are plastic-toy hammers that make a squeaky noise every time you hit them against something. Naturally, this is exactly what you must do with these São João talismans of fun!! The idea is to bop absolutely everyone – whether you know them or not! – on the head (lightly, guys) with these ‘martelos’ in celebration! Just imagine how much noise and mayhem is created when everyone is at it! Seeing as we are modern and civilized people, we’ve adapted the ancient tradition of using leeks for this curious yet fun activity to now use squeaky toys. Maturity, you see!
All about the Bonfires
Every ‘festarola’ is incomplete without its typical BONFIRE, the very symbol of everyone’s favorite summer occasion. As tradition goes, everyone must jump over these bonfires (without getting burnt of course) at least once every year, for luck and protection throughout the rest of the year. There are literally bonfires in all shapes and sizes, so don’t go overboard and try the biggest and meanest one, we’re positively sure you’ll find the bonfire to fit your jumping abilities! Don’t try this at home! Only in Porto’s Festarolas!
Cue the Boats
Porto’s beautiful river takes center stage once again during São João. Hundreds of typical Portuguese ‘rabelo’ boats light up the night, and sail elegantly along the Douro with colorful lights to add a bit of sparkle to the evening. Even the police patrol boats get in on the action with their lights full-blast! If you feel like splashing the cash, here’s a plan for you: party boats!! We can only imagine the awesomeness of spending São João from one of the liveliest boats on the water.
Time for Fireworks
Midnight is the big moment! Everything stops, the ‘martelos de São João’ stop squeaking, no more bonfire jumping, the party comes to a standstill, the boats retreat from the river – all to FULLY TAKE IN the spectacle of the night: the fireworks! The music starts to beat and pulse through the crowd, and suddenly, the light show to end all light shows BEGINS! Fireworks shoot from the riverside and the bridge. The night is filled with light, colors, “oooohs and aaaaahs” and crowds of people enjoying life.
As is fully expected, Cats Porto is ALL ABOUT SÃO JOÃO! We’re-live every 23rd June with more illusion than the last. Seeing as we’re now certified experts in the happenings of this festivity, we really know how to show you to squeeze the most out of this amazing experience. On the day, we’ll prepare our own lil’ shindig, in honor of the ‘festarolas’ all around. Everyone will be summoned to our impressive rooftop, decorated to the MAX, where a bbq full to the brim of sardines and seasoned meat will await you. The wine and beer will never stop flowing and the music and atmosphere will have you wishing the night would never end. You’ll have a ball – our staff will make it their personal mission. Don’t miss the event of the year!!
Take a Bow
After the highs of the firework show, the delicious food, wine, and music… Time to go home and wind down… NOT! It’s obviously time to PAR-TAY. The streets and bars all over the region continue to welcome people until the early hours. One plan to keep in mind is heading to the Foz Beach area to see the sun come up, as a perfect way to put an end to the best and most unique night you could ever spend in this wonderful city (this gets the Cats seal of approval).
Don’t think twice. Come see and live it for yourself. Get those ‘martelos de São João’ at the ready.
Hands up for São João!! And LONG LIVE PORTO!