The June festivals in the Lusophone world, commonly called “Festas Juninas,” are most associated with Brazil. But one of the biggest is actually held in Porto, Portugal: the Festa do São João do Porto. Though little known outside Portugal, the festival for São João (St. John) is one of Europe’s biggest street parties. Lasting from the night of June 23rd until June 24th, the holiday celebrates St. John the Baptist (whose feast day is June 24), and was brought to Brazil by the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese celebrations are a little different, though there is the same merriment, dancing and fireworks that Brazil enjoys, along with some quirky Portuguese food-related traditions.
There is a ton of food at the Festa do São João do Porto, and one of the most traditional foods, seen on nearly every street corner, is grilled sardines, Sardinhas Assadas (and the recipe couldn’t be easier). Other somewhat stranger food traditions, whose origins are pretty much unknown, are also part of the festivities. First, a tradition is bopping other revelers over the head with plastic mallets (which were substituted for leeks or garlic flowers in former times, a tradition that is actually coming back). The other food tradition is the exchange of basil plants (manjericão) with your sweetheart. The plants traditionally even come with a romantic four-line poem:
Se eu me podesse afogar / If I could drown myself
Na tua pele perfumada / In your perfumed skin
Poderia flutuar, / I would waft away,
Viver sempre apaixonada. / Living passionately forever.
Who’d have thought a little basil plant would have such a major part in any festival?