Although they are typically rural festivities, Brazil’s midwinter Festa Junina celebrations have been a country-wide tradition for centuries. They’re strongest in the North and Northeast corners of the country and date back all the way to Portuguese colonization. Festa Junina combines celebrations for St John the Baptist, St Anthony, St Peter, and European midsummer traditions.
Of course, in Brazil, this translates into stringing out the celebrations for an entire month with typical dances, food, and drink. Though some of the celebrations are not what we can consider politically correct by 2017 standards, you can read on for plus55’s guide to everything you need to know about Festa Junina.
The celebrations are typically hosted in an arraiá, which is traditionally a large tent made out of natural materials. It typically has a thatched roof, but it can’t be said that this tradition is strictly adhered to today.
The most iconic and easily recognizable Festa Junina decorations are the brightly-colored flags. These flags would typically stretch up from the ground to the top of a central wooden pole, creating a tent shape. Brightly colored paper lanterns, matching the flags, also deck out settings.
Known as ‘caipira’, celebrations take on a rural theme. Visitors wear straw hats and plaid shirts, imitating a farmer-style dress code. Some participants also paint freckles on to their faces or paint some of their teeth so that they appear missing. While most Brazilians can get on board with the shirts and hats, many today feel that the makeup mocks rural Brazilians.
A component of the most traditional Festa Junina celebrations is the ‘country wedding’. Although most Brazilians now are unlikely to have Festa Junina as their wedding celebrations, there will sometimes be a fake bride and groom performing a traditional tale.
The story goes like this: the fiancée appears pregnant before the wedding, and her father must marry her off. The groom tries to run away on his wedding day but is caught by local soldiers and must marry his bride under the watch of the father. After this, the dancing begins, because clearly nothing warrants more jubilation than a forced marriage.
Following the countryside theme, typical Festa Junina dances seem similar to square dancing and fall under the term quadrilha. Loosely related to dances of the European courts, quadrilha dances are Festa Junina’s best-known. But celebrations often feature a range of folkloric dances, as well.
Forró, a partner dance consisting of simple steps and arrangements, is the most popular and common incarnation. Forró-based Cabrueira is also popular, blending movements from samba, salsa, tango, bolero, and cha-cha.
Other Northeastern dances make an appearance at Festa Junina celebrations. Frevo is one of the other heavily featured styles, which is an energetic dance led by umbrella-wielding participants. Carimbó, which features large skirts and lots of twirling, is also sometimes associated with the festival.
The ‘Dance of the Oranges’, however, is more of a competition. Couples on the dance-floor must balance an orange between their foreheads and dance with their hands behind their backs. If they touch the orange with their hands or let it fall, they are disqualified.
Northeastern forró music is the most typical music at Festa Junina celebrations. Its distinctive sound comes from the combination of an accordion and a syncopated beat provided by a zabumba and a triangle. Other musical arrangements may feature a fiddle, a flute, a pandeiro, a bass, a cavaquinho or an acoustic guitar.
Other musical styles also hail from the Northeast. Besides forró, there’s also baião, xote, reisado, samba de coco and cantigas.
There’s no shortage of food at Brazilian celebrations, but Festa Junina’s food supplies come with a Northeastern theme. Typically, these fall under three themes: corn, meat and manioc. Meat and chicken skewers are popular festival fuel, as are deep-fried pastéis filled with ground meat. Meanwhile, manioc-based foods are a frequent component, but it’s the corn and sweet treats that are the true culinary stars of Festa Junina.
Corn-based food supplies provide the sweeter side of the celebration’s food. There’s corn on the cob, popcorn, cornbread and corn cake, but options become more complex from there. Pamonha, a parcel of corn boiled to a paste and wrapped in the corn husk, is also popular, as is Brazilian cuzcuz, which is a corn-based couscous. There’s also curau, a corn-based, custard-like dessert and canjica, a white corn-based dessert.
Other sweet treats on offer include peanut cake, saccharine cocaca made from crystallized coconut shavings and pé-de-moleque, a Brazilian nut brittle. There’s also bom-bocado, a sweet cake featuring both coconut and grated parmesan, plus sweets made from pumpkin and sweet potato.
In the cold depths of Brazil’s winter, what better than vinho quente to warm yourself up? That’s right, it’s ‘hot wine’. It’s a tropical version of mulled wine, made with a combination of dry red wine, apple, pineapple, sugar, cinnamon and clove.
For those wanting something stronger, there’s an option more akin to hot toddy called quentão. A cachaça-based hot drink, this is heavy on the spices. Typically featuring ginger, cloves and orange, it’s a warming winter treat – but don’t underestimate its strength!
As a family-friendly celebration, Festa Junina can often include games, jokes, and challenges for party-goers. It’s not unheard of for Festa Junina celebrations to include egg-and-spoon or sack races, hoop throws and children’s games.