Festa do Sao Joao (1)
June 23 and 24
The old cliche that Porto works while Lisbon plays is redundant on June 24, when Portugal’s second city teaches the capital a thing or two about having fun. The Festa do Sao Joao is a magnificent display of midsummer madness
– one giant street party, with every available outdoor space in Porto given over to a full night of eating, drinking and dancing to welcome in the city’s saint’s day. Fireworks, bonfires and roaming bands of hammer- and leek-wielding lunatics keep the crowds entertained all night
traditionally, you’re meant to witness the first majestic rays of dawn down on the beaches of Foz do Douro, with the day of Sao Joao itself spent recovering, a regatta of traditional boats down the Rio Douro providing a gentle antidote to the night before.
Every village in Portugal has an adopted saint – usually one of the santos populares, the popular saints of Antonio (Anthony), Joao (John) or Pedro (Peter)
– who is fervently celebrated on their annual saint’s day; Lisbon’s main saint is Antonio, while Porto and many other towns in northern Portugal celebrate Joao. All these saints’ days are in June, probably a Christian adaptation of pagan Summer Solstice celebrations, and there remains a strong religious element to the festivals, with decorations set up in churches and offerings made to the saints in the form of lighted candles and plastic body parts, donated as thanks or to ask the saints for cures. Special church services are given on the saints’ days, often followed by a procession carrying an effigy of the saint, but in an increasingly secular country, the religious side is often forgotten in favour of the party element.