The French brought to Brazil the quadrilha, which is a
theatrical dance that tells the story of a marriage in a small town.
Even today, the traditional quadrilha lyrics of
Festas Juninas use French words.
Whoever has traveled to Brazil during the month of June, has already found out that Brazilians celebrate the month with parties that can be even bigger than Carnaval in some cities. Those parties are called Festas Juninas and they celebrate saints Anthony, John and Peter with lots of traditional foods, drinks and a theatrical dance inherited from the French called quadrilha (a type of square dance).
However, the origin of this party is much older than Brazil itself. It began in Europe. The month of June being the beginning of the summer, bring crops that the population celebrated with parties and ceremonies. All over Europe, people used to make bonfires on hilltops and plains to dance around and jump over. Part of the ceremonies also was to offer the fire some of the crop and even live animals to bring luck for the next crop season. From this old practice, came the tradition of bonfires in Festas Juninas as well as all the beliefs related to the fire such as " kids cannot play with the fire", "you cannot push the firewood with your feet", and similar expressions.
Even older were the June celebrations throughout the Roman Empire. There were celebrations to the god Juno. These festivities were brought to Europe by the Greek, and goddess Juno, who is known as Hera in the Greek mythology, was celebrated in June throughout Europe, at the same time that Europeans were thanking the crop. Juno was married to Jupiter (Zeus in Greece) and she was the symbol of fertility, love and fidelity.
Juno was considered the Roman supreme goddess, married to the ruling god, Jupiter. She is believed to watch and protect all women and was called by the Romans "the one who makes the child see the light of day". To this day, many people consider the month of June, which is named after the goddess who is the patroness of marriage, to be the most favorable time to marry. With the spreading of Christianity throughout Europe many ancient traditions were eradicated but some were incorporated to the Roman Catholic Church and the marriage abilities of Juno were passed on to Saint Anthony. To these days, Saint Anthony is believed to help with marriage.
Nowadays, Brazilians do not thank for the crops because in South America this is not the crop season. As for the celebrations they extend throughout the month, commemorating Saint Anthony on June 13, Saint John on June 24, and Saint Peter on June 29.
Saint John is the most celebrated in the northeast region of Brazil. Saint Peter is known to protect fishermen and homes besides being one of the founders of the Catholic Church. Some cities also include Saint Paul in the festivities.
Every Festa Junina has a tall pole with a Saint John image hanging on it. Tradition says that Elizabeth, Saint John's mother, used a tall pole to announce the son's birth to Saint John's aunt, Mary who was expecting Jesus. In Brazil, this pole was transformed into a special attraction; it is the so-called pau-de-sebo (greased pole). The pole is covered with grease and money or any other kind of prize is placed on its top.
The Portuguese brought the Festa Junina from Europe to Brazil. Like in Brazil, Portugal celebrates June every year, with the difference that in Portugal people give more attention to Saint Anthony than to Saint John. In the big melting pot that Brazil is, Festa Junina was also well accepted by the native habitants and many more beliefs, traditions and costumes joined the party.
When the French missions came to Brazil they brought the quadrilha, which is a theatrical dance that tells the story of a marriage in a small town. Due to its origin, even today you still see some French words in the quadrilha lyrics, terms like anavam, anarrié, granche, balancê, travessê, devaiê and tour. And the quadrilha became the official dance of a Festa Junina as you can see in the quadrilha script below.
Another aspect of Festas Juninas that blended with local culture was the food. All over Brazil, the celebrations for saints Anthony, John and Peter happen June, but the food that goes along is different in each region of the country. Tasting the variety of Festa Junina's food we can experience even far away from Brazil a little flavor and feeling for this most traditional Brazilian celebration.
Starting with the Amazon, in Manaus (the capital of Amazonas State), Festa Junina is celebrated with cassava cake, sweet tapioca with coconut. The Amazonians also enjoy the podre cake, and peanut brittle, which has Brazil nuts in it. Amazonians had a strong influence from indigenous peoples who brought to the Festa Junina the tacacá (porridge of a wild cassava—tucupi—starch and shrimp served hot in a bowl), fried pocovã bananas, caruru, vatapá, cocada and aluá (pineapple peel juice).
Campina Grande, in Paraíba state, and Caruaru, in Pernambuco, are some of the most famous northeastern cities where Festas Juninas are a huge celebration, rivaling Carnaval. Instead of samba, they have 'forró', though.
Forró is a ball dance used to celebrate Festas Juninas and the music for the dance is also called forró. One of the most popular bands of forró is 'Mastruz com Leite'. One explanation not accepted by some experts for the name forró is that the word originated at the time the British were constructing railroads in the northeast region. During the weekends they used to promote outdoor balls to entertain the local workers. And to let everybody know they were welcome to the ball they used to post a sign saying 'For All'. Time went by and 'For All' became forró and the ball became a Brazilian tradition. During Festas Juninas you can find tents selling many different dishes such as canjica, pamonha, corn on the cob, mugunzá, cassava cake and peanut brittle.
Going down to the southeast region you'll also find traditional Festas Juninas in the states of São Paulo and Minas Gerais. There you will find canjica seasoned with roasted peanuts and coconut, soups made with beef, cassava or smoked beans, popcorn, peanut brittle and lots of sweets such as milk fudge, crystallized fruits and cajuzinho (a candy made with ground peanuts). In the south of Brazil, Festas Juninas have roasted pine nuts, popcorn, roasted peanuts, and a variety of cakes. But the most traditional is the corn cake.
Brazil celebrates its Festas Juninas with different foods, but to drink everybody has quentão. This is a hot drink made with cooked ginger in water, sugar, cinnamon, cloves and cachaça (sugar cane liquor). The name quentão literally means the big hot one and reminds us that the infusion warms you up in the chilly nights of June. To drink, Festas Juninas also have quentão made with red wine and the traditional caipirinha (margarita-like potion). By the way, another way to warm yourself up is to jump the bonfire that stands in the middle of the party. You also can climb send love letters and dance quadrilha.
This is a well deserved title that Caruaru holds proudly. Besides being the commercial pole of Pernambuco's inland, leader of about 40 municipalities, it is a incontestable reference within the northeastern folklore and cultural scenario.
CARUARU - CAPITAL OF THE "FORRÓ"
Among the so called "inland parties" where the main characteristic is the spontaneity, the parties that compose the June cycle are more and more remarkable as time goes by, and today they are an event nationally and intentionally known.
As important as its function of preserving, maintaining alive and divulging the northeastern popular culture, the Caruaru's June parties - the authentic expression of its hospitable and joyful people - have also the potentiality of leading the tourist flow in the region.
The city transformed in a huge hamlet hosts thousands of visitors which number has been considerably increasing and reflecting directly not only on the local economy but also warming up and discovering other neighbor poles for the market.
Those approaches only would be enough to justify such success. However such peculiar manifestation provides other pleasant surprises revealed by its colors, forms and rhythms of this charming city of inviting weather where you can enjoy the "BEST SAINT JOHN'S PARTIES OF BRAZIL".