Salvador Bahia, Brazil, known as the carnival capital, also hosts the country’s most popular harvest festival called Festa Junina. This festive season begins on June 16 with Corpus Christi Day and concludes on July 2 with Bahian Independence Day.
At the heart of the festivities is Sao Joao Day, celebrated on June 24 as the official harvest celebration, which pays homage to the region’s agricultural history.
Originally rooted in Catholic traditions, these holidays quickly assimilated the cultural influences of the African and indigenous populations in the northeast, resulting in unique manifestations. Afro-Brazilian practices, particularly from Candomblé, contributed to the transformation of the June festivals.
The celebration established a connection between Catholic saints and African orishas, aligning the figures of São Peter and São John with Xangô, the African deity associated with justice and lightning.
The festival is marked by vibrant music, delectable cuisine and energetic dance performances that take place in venues known as Campos. Forró, a music and dance genre, forms the heart and soul of the festivities. Its origins can be traced back to the farms and plantations of northeastern Brazil, where farmers and African slaves utilized songs to coordinate their work and communicate with each other during crop harvests. Each crop and stage of collection had its own unique song.
These melodic traditions spread as farmers and field workers transported their cattle and crops from the fields to homes and cafes, engaging everyone in joyful singing. Talented local vocalists eventually performed these songs at events and parties, occasionally participating in impromptu competitions with rival viola (guitar) players through freestyle rap-like improvisations. The original instruments used included the large metal triangle, zabumba (an Afro-Brazilian drum) and guitar. Over time, the accordion was incorporated into traditional forró bands, influenced by French music.
The Festa Junina offers a mouthwatering array of regional delicacies prepared with hearty ingredients commonly found in rural settings. Traditional dishes include bolo de fubá, corn cakes made from finely ground rice or corn flour, curau, a mixture of cornmeal, condensed milk, and peanuts sprinkled with cinnamon, cocada de colher, shredded coconut mixed with condensed milk and butter and paçoca, a candy made from crushed peanuts.
Attendees often don straw hats and plaid shirts, reflecting the stereotypical attire of rural Brazilians, while women typically adorn themselves in Chita vestidos, dresses made from a traditional Brazilian fabric widely used in household items, decorations and clothing.
The festival ambiance is further enhanced by bonfires (fogueiras) lining the roads that connect the towns, illuminating the area and creating a warm atmosphere. Small flags known as bandeirinhas—the most traditional decorations in Festas Juninas—can be seen adorning the surroundings.
Make sure to include this popular and enjoyable festival on your bucket list, as it offers a unique experience blending tradition, culture and joyous celebrations.