Festas Juninas – June Festival

Wheel skirts, face paint, hair braids, a straw hat, patched trousers, a plaid shirt

Quadrille Festa Junina – Photo Eric R Stoner

As I said before the month of June is the best period of the year to visit the north of Brazil. The temperature is pleasant, and the air is full of music and colours. Besides the colourful Bull-Fighting, I wrote about in my previous article, we have the Festas Juninas.

After Carnival, the most anticipated event on the Brazilian calendar is the June Festival, the Festas Juninas, which covers the entire month of June with a lot of native music, square dancing, typical food and drinks in honour of three Catholic saints: St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter. The June Festivities with its strong traits of Brazilian folklore are among the most popular events in Brazil.

Quadrilha Festa Junina – Photo Eric R Stoner

Origin of the June Festival
There are several explanations for the origin of the festivities. One theory argues that pagan tribes in the Northern Hemisphere (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Baltic countries) celebrated the summer solstice (Midsummer night), occurring on 21, 22 or 23 of June, dancing around a bonfire, thanking the gods for good harvests and the fertility of the land.

This pagan Midsummer Night Festival was of course adopted by the Roman Catholic Church and furthermore celebrated on June 24, according to the Julian calendar (pre-Gregorian). With the advent of Christianity, the June party took a new shape and started to honour the cousin of Jesus Christ, John the Baptist. The Catholic Church took advantage of the lull in the June festivities to celebrate the importance of three saints. The 13th is to commemorate St. Antony, the 24th St. John, and the 29th St. Peter.

St. Anthony, St. John and St. Peter

During the colonial period the Brazilians began to celebrate the June Festivals thanks to Portuguese Jesuits who brought this (catholicised) mania here. Soon thereafter the Indians and Negro slaves joined the festivities and took to the streets. In 1808, with the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family, the festival got more sophisticated and took on a major character. Originating in France in the eighteenth century, the square dance (quadrille), dancing couples swapping pairs, was much appreciated by the European aristocracy.

The rabbles, who were watching the dancing on the sly, liked what they saw and led the quadrille to the popular festivals, where it has become successful at weddings, baptisms, and especially at Festas Juninas.

The quadrille lost prestige in the late 19th century, when it was replaced by other dances but remained to be danced in the more conservative rural areas and folkloric festivals.

The Quadrille
The leader of the quadrille uses a picturesque blend of Portuguese and tangled French. When he wants the couples to move towards the centre of the room and greet each other with a nod of the head, he shouts: “cumprimenta vis-a-vis. Avan, tu!”. To let the pairs return to their places, it is: “anarriér!” In most animated moments, expressions as “balancê!” to get the dancers back in pairs, after been separated and swaying at their spots. The Brazilian transformed the French quadrille in a dance with very national characteristics.

Quadrilha Junina – Photo Henrique Felício-O Liberal

In the past, during the Festas Juninas, the sky was filled with balloons with candle lights and, at night, it was impossible to count the lights floating in the wind. Today, balloons are prohibited due to the risk of destructive fires, but the traditional bonfires still illuminate the June night and beautify the festivities.

Quadrilha Festa Junina – Photo Eric R Stoner

Quadrilha Festa Junina- Photo Eric R Stoner

Typical foods

As June is the month for harvesting corn, much of the sweets, cakes and pastries, related to the festivities, are made of this product. Fritters, cural, boiled corn, hominy, couscous, popcorn, corn cake are just some examples.

Besides the recipes with corn, also part of the menu this season are: sweet rice, groundnut cake, nut cake, bombocado, broa de fubá (corn bread), cocada (coconut candy), pé-de-moleque (foot-boy), quentão, mulled wine, sweet potatoes and many more.

Enjoy the photos.

Quadrilha Festa Junina – Photo Eric R Stoner