By Fiona Hurrell, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – There is no denying that Brazil is a country where celebration and religious customs form part of the fabric of daily life. The fact that Brazil has more public holidays than most other nations in the world puts paid to this and although a rainy winter may be upon us, the festive spirit has by no means been dampened.
Last weekend marked the beginning of the Festa Junina, a celebration during the winter months that centers around three religious figures, Saint Anthony, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Peter.
The event appeals widely to all Brazilians on different levels. For the older generations, the spiritual significance is strong, particularly in the Northeast of the country, but to younger Cariocas, the music and party atmosphere form the focal points of this time honored tradition.
It is also known as the “Marriage Festival,” thanks to the traditional dance Quadrilha which is performed throughout the country. This theatrical display was brought to Brazil by French missionaries. It narrates the tale of marriage in a small, country town and is the official dance of Festa Junina.
The history of Festa Junina is said the be strongly linked with the European summer celebrations for agriculture and harvesting, apparent by the costumes donned by many Carioca revelers such as straw hats, gingham check clothing, and painted freckles. Traditional country food is served in large quantities at various street stalls.
Hylka Maria, a Carioca actress and filmmaker says: “I love the festival because it comes from the Northeast where all my family is from. We’ve always eaten this food since I was a kid, I think I loved it since the day I was born!”
Some of the staples include cassava cake, sweet tapioca, fried bananas, and peanut brittle. As for drinks, a hot mixture of red wine, ginger, sugar, cinema and cloves called Quentão is served, which tastes a little like the European mulled wine and helps protect against the chilly temperatures on the streets.
Celebrations for this year’s Festa Junina began on June 3rd with an impressive performance by Alceu Valença at Rua dos Arcos in Lapa. A musical sensation that merges the traditional Northeastern style of Brazilian music with electronic and pop sounds, this act perfectly embodies the spirit of the winter celebration.
Widely referenced as the most “Northeastern” fair in Rio, the “Feira de São Cristóvão,” will take place in a large pavilion located in São Cristóvão filled with restaurants serving the traditional foods including moqueca and feijoada.
Certainly the tone has been set for a number of upcoming events, most of which are carried out al fresco at various locations across the city. Here are a few of the highlights:
St. John Carioca
Festivities will take place on Sunday June 12th at the Quinta da Boa Vista located in Zona Norte (North Zone) in the park which was once part of the Sao Cristovao palace gardens. Performing acts include Elba Ramalho, Alcione, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil.
Plantation in Rio 2011
The Arraial da Providência plays host to celebrations on June 17th, 18th, and 19th at the Gávea Jockey Club. Friday from 5PM to 1AM with a star performance from Trio Pé de Serra. Saturday and Sunday: from 1PM to 1AM with live performances from Tribo de Gonzaga, Roberta de Recife and Moraes Moreira.
June Festival in Grajau Tennis Club
June 24th, 25th, and 26th the party of Junina Grajaú takes place at the Tennis Club in Grajaú. This event is geared towards families and young children with entertainment provided by the Banda de Forró from 4PM until midnight.