Festas de São João – Festival of St. John

June 20, 2024

A brightly colored hot air balloon floating in the night sky, part of the São João festivities in Porto.

A colorful balloon released during São João festivity, lighting up the night sky of Porto.

The São João festivity in Porto is one of the city's most traditional and popular celebrations. Its origins are associated with the celebration of the so-called summer solstice, taking place around June 24th in the northern hemisphere. It's also the day dedicated to St. John the Baptist, one of the most revered saints in Portugal. Therefore, the festivity, a municipal holiday, has influences from both Catholicism and pre-Christian pagan rituals. Initially, the festival's origins were predominantly religious, featuring processions, masses, and other Catholic rituals in honor of St. John the Baptist.

This is one of the liveliest and most active celebrations in Porto. During the night of the 23rd to the 24th, it's common for participants to carry little plastic hammers and leeks to tease each other. In a relaxed atmosphere, the tradition involves people gently banging the hammers on the heads of friends and family while holding the leeks to ward off evil spirits. Another well-known tradition shared by those who visit Porto at this time of the year is the release of hot air balloons and the lighting of bonfires. Decorative and colorful balloons create an impressive visual spectacle in the night sky. As for bonfires, they are an important part of the festivities, meant to scare away any negative spirits. Another unique feature in São João is the so-called "rusgas," where several elements associated with different parishes walk around the city, mainly in the downtown area, promoting the spirit of São João.

Like any festivity, traditions are the cornerstones of these celebrations. In this case, an element associated with São João is a plant called "manjerico." These small, intensely smelling plants, similar to basil (they are part of the basil plant family), are usually presented in clay pots and decorated with a small paper flag on which popular quatrains are written, celebrating love and friendship. The plants are then offered to loved ones in a celebration of sharing and affection. In addition to their symbolic purpose, basils also play a role in social interaction since, according to tradition, when you offer basil, the recipient is expected to recite the verses written on the flag.

One of the most anticipated moments of the day is undoubtedly the fireworks display. At midnight on the 24th, the town is illuminated by an incredible pyrotechnic show along the River Douro. Colorful and noisy fireworks are launched into the sky, reflected in the waters of the river, enchanting all spectators, whether residents or tourists who travel on this specific date to immerse themselves in the spirit of the city.

During the night of June 23rd to 24th, the entire city comes alive. One of the most important features is the presence of concerts on every street, stalls promoting this special day, and families and friends dining outdoors while enjoying the famous sardines and other dishes associated with this day. The warmth and human closeness undoubtedly set it apart from all the other festivals in Portugal.

Vibrant fireworks lighting up the sky and reflecting on the River Douro, celebrating São João festivity in Porto.

Spectacular fireworks display over Porto marking the peak of São João celebrations.