Festival of San Joao


We really lucked out on Portuguese festivals.  We began with the festival of St. Antony in  Lisbon and we ended with the festival of St. John in Porto.  Each had very different traditions* but both were citywide craziness with everyone getting into the act.

The festival of St. John, which gets going the night of June 23rd, is characterized by plastic hammers, St. John’s lanterns, and massive fireworks.  The hammer thing involves tapping people on their heads with a plastic hammer.  This supposedly confers good luck on the bumpee.  The hammers come in all sizes and everybody has at least one.  The hammer is a variation on the original practice of tapping people on the head with a garlic blossom.  Some folks still go with the garlic but I was told that by the end of the evening, one’s hair reeks of garlic.  Michael and I had hammers and we went out awhacking along with the rest of the population of Porto.  Little kids just loved bonking people.

We were also given a St. John’s lantern but we couldn’t overcome our stateside fears and actually light the thing.  A St. John’s lantern is made of fabric or paper and is a hot air balloon.  There is a ring of compressed paper suspended at the mouth of the balloon and you light it so that the entire ring is flaming.  As the hot air fills the balloon, it lifts off and rises gently into the night . . . unless a breeze pushes it into a tree or causes it to swing enough that the balloon catches fire and plummets to the ground.  We didn’t stay up until midnight or go down to the riverfront where the mass off humanity was, but from our vantage point we saw many of the lanterns drifting up and away.  It was beautiful.

As for the fireworks, they didn’t begin until midnight and we just couldn’t manage to stay up for them or brave the crowds.  By all accounts, they were spectacular.  Who knew that Portugal had a huge fireworks industry and tradition?

*But they both had fartura booths!!

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