All over the country, June is the month of Popular Saints (Santos Populares). At Porto, São João de Baptista is the celebrated saint. The sacred and the profane go hand in hand, joining together to create the city's biggest festival of the year.
Get involved in the festivals and get to know the soul and the people of Porto, through the unique experience of living the festival that characterizes it the best. For that, we are going to show you the history of São João, so that you get to know the symbols in their full extent, and so that during your visit you have a feel for the celebrations you'll get to see all over the city.
Sacred and Profane
São João Baptista is a "Holy Saint", being celebrated on the streets and in full by people. The first references of festivals in his honor come from the 14th century, the involvement of the Portuguese has been since always marked not only by the force with which they adhere to the festivals, but also for their effort in organizing the initiatives that make Porto's festivals.
The festival of São João Baptista is also the summer solstice festival, marking the solar course peak and inheriting all of the symbols characteristic of a festival with pagan origins. Religious expressions are narrower nowadays, summed to the interior of sacred spaces, where folk's memory is materialized - the church and chapels - and the altars, in honor of the saint.
Don't miss the churches and chapels that evocate São João Baptista, and enjoy the art and testimony of renowned national and international masters artistic expressions. Places like the Church of S. Francisco, the Church of the Convent of São João Novo, the Cathedral, the Clérigos Church, the Almas Chapel (The Souls' Chapel) and the Church of São João da Foz. Don't miss any of these places!
The Symbols of Porto's Festivals
During the festivals of São João, we see bonfires, sweet basil, leek and little hammers a bit all over the city.
The bonfires of São João are lit in the streets by groups of residents and friends that show their bravery as they jump over them, and have purifying virtues, keeping health, marriage and business in view. In the evening and night of São João, dew water is holy, with a divine power that cure diseases, gives beauty to the youth and encourages love. This night, the dew is felt with clarity. Nowadays dew is a part of the festival ritual itself.
Basil is the most popular type of aromatic herb. It can get basil at any downtown street, either for decoration or for a gift. They are sold in pots adorned with a small flag, attached by a wire, with a popular quatrain allusive to the festival. As for the leek, it became the quintessential symbol of Porto's São João Festivals. Leek is used at the longest night of the year, to touch and offer its scent to passersby, wishing good luck and good fortunes in life.1
At downtown, at the stalls where men tout and sell traditional sweet basil, cloves, lemon balm and leek, there's also the modern little hammers. Made of plastic, they produce a sound very unique of this festival. They are indispensable for the friendly "aggression" that happens among revelers. They are harmless, save for the ubiquitous laughing and grinning they give to the festival!
During this time, streets are packed with ornaments and festive illuminations, snacks stalls, outside dances, and amusements. Everything, so that people celebrate a popular São João, a reveler of joy and gatherings.
With regard to gastronomy, during the night of São João folks usually eat green broth with bread, lamb or grilled sardines, pepper salad and, for the dessert, custard. On the morning of the 23rd of June, people drink cafe latte and eat bread with butter. The idea of certainty about the origins of this tradition isn't anything else than a mirage. Some say that the use of lamb or goat is due to this animal's presence in the images of São João, an allusion to God's lamb. As for the sardines, they may have been added for being cheaper and plentiful by this time of the year.
The Program for 2016
Despite the fact that the holiday falls in the 24th of June, and as in previous years, the festival invades the city, kick started during the month of May, its initiation taking place on the 23rd of the same month.
Furthermore in May, the Serralves em Festa is a cultural event you can't lose. Music festivals are also in the schedule, with NOS Primavera Sound, which takes place from the 4th to the 6th of June, chiefly featured amid a younger public. The Caixa Ribeira Festival, between the 12th and 13th of June, brings to Porto the most renowned names of Fado, in the unique scenery of Ribeira do Porto. Music continues with the Concertos da Avenida, staring names such as Rui Veloso, D.A.M.A, Deolinda, among others.
The pinnacle will be, however, the night of the 23rd of June. At midnight there's a firework show, the fireworks of São João, one of the reasons why people are in the streets. Everyone follows towards Ribeira, joining thousands of people on both sides of the Douro river. In the festivals' program there's still enough time for competition, present in the traditional Regata dos Barcos Rabelos, on the 24th of June, from Douro's mouth to the D. Luís I bridge.
The festivals are over by the 4th of July, with the "rusgas" and São João's great fair.
If you are coming to Porto between May and July, be sure to make the best of the Santos Populares, especially the 23rd of June night. Get to know the folks of Porto and live an unforgettable night. Find out the best places to stay at Porto and contact us so that we can help you make the perfect plan to celebrate São João at Porto.