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About a month ago, I interviewed Andressa da Costa, and she mentioned a Brazilian country festival that would be happening here this coming June, a collaboration of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services with the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Portuguese classes. We finally have a date, June 23, and I would like to take the opportunity to explain what the party is, the traditions and cultural aspects of the harvest festival, for the folks who are not aware of the meaning of the party, as well as to invite everyone in our community to not only attend but in case there are any questions, or they would like to contribute, to reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 508-687-9182. We will announce the times and locations in the following weeks as well as more information about the festival.
The name of the harvest festival is Festa Junina. During the whole month of June, festivities take place in homage to the Catholic saints St. John, St. Peter, and St. Anthony. However, the party is widely celebrated across the country, especially in schools, where the religious aspects are removed from it so that all can participate.
Some historians affirm that this festival was brought to Brazil during the colonial period by the Portuguese, and incorporated traces of the indigenous and African culture. It is in the Northeast part of Brazil that the party has greater expressiveness. Festa Junina goes beyond the tradition that makes the people rejoice, as it also represents a crucial economic moment; the magic of the time attracts tourists to various parts of the country that otherwise wouldn’t see such an influx. Many Brazilians and even foreigners, mainly from Europe, visit the northeastern cities to accompany the festivities and experience the customs typical of the region in celebration of Festa Junina.
Besides the main traditions that attract the attention of tourists, there are bonfires, Brazilian line dancing, typical foods, and colorful decorations. The Portuguese brought the custom of releasing balloons to Brazil, a tradition that still exists today in Portugal, especially in Porto, where people attach balloons to small papers with requests to the gods, saints, universe. It was customary to drop some balloons to mark the beginning of the festivities, but due to the risk of fire and death, this practice is prohibited in some places, including in Brazil. (Law 9605, Feb. 12, 1998, in its Section II, which deals with crimes against flora, prohibits the manufacture, sale, transport or release of balloons that may cause forest fires and other forms of vegetation, in urban areas or any type of human settlement, with one to three years’ imprisonment and/or fine.) Because of this, in Brazil, the balloons nowadays are only used as part of the Festa Junina decoration, along with the typical colored flags.
The bonfires have their origin, according to Catholic tradition, in a deal made between Elizabeth (mother of St. John the Baptist) and Mary (mother of Jesus Christ), who were cousins. Isabel lit a bonfire on the top of a mountain to tell Cousin Mary that her son had been born. It is a tradition to say that one must jump the fire an odd number of times, at least three, to be protected from all evils all year round. Fireworks are related to the traditional Festa Juninas’ fire for its visual effects.
The traditional dance of the festival is Quadrilha — Brazilian line dancing. In France, line dancing was quite common between the early 19th century and the First World War, and in Brazil, it incorporated some features of country life, and invaded urban centers in the traditional feasts of St. John.
The Quadrilha consist of couples dressed as country people. With steps to the sound of the concertina as the main instrument, the couples participate in the dance and celebration of a wedding, as one of the couples dresses like bride and groom in the country style. There is a person in charge who commands the actions of the Quadrilha’s members, and dictates all the steps through some common phrases and words. The most used steps in the Quadrilha are greeting to the ladies and gentlemen, the exchange of sides, tunnel, the road of the country, great wheel, and farewell.
In the Southeastern region, in some states, like São Paulo and Minas Gerais, it is traditional to have typical food stands and games to cheer the visitors; usually, during this time, are also the presentations of Quadrilha.
In several cities of the Northeast, the June festivities take place attracting large audiences, and are usually accompanied by Quadrilha contests and concerts by famous artists, mainly forró (another Brazilian dance) bands and Brazilian country singers. The countryside towns set the stage and offer a variety of attractions to visitors who can enjoy the typical foods, usually found in tents set up specially for the parties, attend the shows, and see the diverse manifestations typical of the time, like the Quadrilha, or to dance a forró in a cheerful and colorful setting.
The month of June is also known as the month of the brides, because June 13 is the day of St. Anthony, considered the holy matchmaker. Inspired by tradition and by the play that causes curiosity, many single women who want to get married pray to the saint. On that day also, the Catholic churches distribute “St. Anthony’s bread.” It is believed that the bread brings luck to unmarried girls who want marriage, and that there is never a lack of food in the homes that receive it.
The foods most representative of this feast grew out of good harvests of corn at this time of year.