São João, The Longest Night in Porto
23 Jun, 2016, By Manuel A.
Two days after the longest day of the year, on the night of the 23rd of June in Porto, we come across the longest night in all year. That night we celebrate São João (Saint John the Baptist), and we do it as big as it gets.
People from Porto, the vicinities, and even from further away, come and take the streets, gathering family and friends for a barbecue that extends into the night. The menu varies from party to party, but roasted sardines and green peppers will always fill and adorn the tables and plates. Anywhere in town you’ll smell that freshly roasted fish scent from the air, and it seems as if the ocean is paying the city a visit.
Although celebrating a Christian patron, São João is one of Portugal’s most heathen celebrations. People build huge bonfires, torch it and then dance around it and jump over smaller fires. Others (probably the same ones) scrub leek shrubs in the faces of all the passers-by, leaving a sour taste and smell on the poor victim. In the last three decades or so, this shrubs have been vastly replaced by squeaky plastic toy hammers with which to hit the passers-by, amicably.
This is probably the most recognizable feature in this festivity. The streets filled with colour and a deafening sound don’t let anyone sleep. Foreigners love it, and the city’s habitants can’t live without it.
For me, São João is truly the utmost gathering of the city with its people, when everybody mingles and the social boundaries almost disappear. That night everyone’s joyful, colourful, and… probably slightly drunk. The elders mix and mingle with the younger ones, everybody dances to Pimba (an eccentric, loud and corny type of Portuguese popular music), and few get to bed before sunrise.