Inside Brazil’s Festa Junina Solstice Celebrations
By Danielle Dorsey
Brazil is famed for its larger-than-life Carnaval celebrations, but the country’s Festa Junina celebrations provide a great option for travelers who want to experience authentic Brazilian culture with slightly smaller crowds.
The festival draws inspiration from European midsummer celebrations, with many traditions brought over by the Portuguese during colonization. One major difference is that Brazil’s Festa Junina celebrates the shift from fall into winter, while Europe’s June solstice celebrations mark the beginning of summer. The holiday, which encompasses the entire month of June in some regions, also commemorates the Catholic feast days of St. John the Baptist, St. Peter, and St. Anthony.
Festa Junina also marks the end of the rainy season in northeast states where celebrations are the most extravagant. The festival is an opportunity to celebrate the rain that is necessary for winter harvests, with groups of people called ‘festeiros’ taking to the streets in song and dance. Participants cloak themselves in traditional rural clothing that speaks to themes of rain and harvest and join quadrilha folk dances which evolved from French quadrille square dances and involve up to 30 performers. Local, regional, and national quadrilha dance competitions are popular at this time of year.
Because Festa Junina is a harvest festival, it’s a great time to discover local delicacies, especially those made with corn, which is the major crop that’s harvested this time of year. Be sure to try typical treats like pamonha, canjica, corn on the cob, and corn cakes. Rice pudding, sweet potatoes, and quentão de vinho (Brazilian mulled wine) are also popular picks during Festa Junina.
The cities of Campina Grande in the state of Paraiba and Caruaru in the state of Pernambuco hold the most impressive Festa Junina celebrations in the county, attracting millions of visitors each year.
Head to the state of Maranhão if you want a different take on Festa Junina. In this northeast state, celebrations include colorfully-adorned troupes performing Bumba-meu-Boi dances. Like many Festa Junina dances, there’s a theatrical component that explores Brazilian folklore. In Maranhao, they tell a story of a slave who is able to resurrect a bull who dies in his care. One of the dancers dons a festive bull costume complete with sequins and ribbons to help demonstrate the story.
In southern states where temperatures are cooler, traditional midsummer bonfire gatherings are the norm. While the rural north celebrates through a local lens, with residents eager to keep traditions alive, southern celebrations are typically organized by businesses, churches, and colleges. Southern festivities reach a climax on June 21st, while northern states celebrate for the entire month of June.