In June and July many cities around the country gets ready to celebrate the most typical event in the Brazilian winter: the June/July Festivals. According to the Ministry of Tourism, celebrations are among the most popular in Brazil’s cultural calendar, second only to Carnival. These festivals are enjoyed not only by Brazilians, but also by many visitors who have a unique opportunity to learn and experience a wide variety of traditional Brazilian rhythms and costumes.
Colourful costumes and pennant banners will immediately catch the eyes of visitors and participants alike. Couples may join in the quadrilha, a local variation of a traditional 18th century French elite dance known as quadrille. Nowadays, costumes are a clear reference to 20th century rural Brazil. Many years ago, it was common to see huge colorful banners featuring the three most popular catholic saints commemorated in June: Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Peter. These banners were immersed in water during an event known as “washing the saints”. The remaining water would then be sprinkled on participants for their spiritual purification. Those huge banners are still found in some regions of Brazil, but they have mostly been replaced by colorful pennant banners that decorate squares and courtyards.
These festivals are also a great opportunity to taste many of Brazil’s typical foods, most of which made of corn, including pamonhas (a Brazilian creamy corn cake, similar to Mexican tamales or Chilean humitas), and canjica (a Brazilian white corn porridge). Another common ingredient for cakes and other delicacies is cassava, a starchy tuber that is very popular in South America. Other typical foods include pé-de-moleque (peanut brittle), and cocada (a milk-based coconut sweet). The most typical drink at this time of the year is called quentão, a mulled drink made with wine or cachaça (sugarcane spirit), to be consumed very hot.
Of European origin, June Festivals were incorporated long ago to the catholic calendar. Under folk traditions, the summer solstice (the longest day in the year) used to be celebrated together with the harvest season. Brazil decided to keep the same date, but as the country is in the Southern Hemisphere, it falls on the winter solstice – or the longest night in the year. There are specific events in honor of major catholic saints: Saint Anthony, Saint John and Saint Peter. The celebration became so popular that it was extended to the month of July as well.
The biggest Festivals take place in Brazil’s Northeast. One of the most famous is Saint John’s Day in Campina Grande, in the state of Paraíba. The quadrilles dance to the sound of forró music, and dancers wear costumes that remind us of life in the countryside. To the sound of accordions, couples join the celebrations and celebrate a mock wedding – indeed, one of the couples are dressed as a peasant bride and groom. A quadrille master leads the dance by chanting traditional words and phrases.