As winter arrives in the southern hemisphere, Brazilians celebrate ‘June Festivals’

They’re called “Festas Juninas” — or June Festivals — and they are the heart of Brazilian culture this time of the year. What’s special about these festivals is that they’re generally not celebrated in big mega events, like Carnival in February, but they’re held in each town and community across the country. As Michael Fox reports from Florianopolis, in southern Brazil, these festivals spring from a deep well of history and broad mix of cultural influences passed from one generation to the next.

The World

Outside the Our Lady of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Florianopolis, Brazil, a boy plays the accordion to a crowd under a big white tent. Around him, vendors sell corn, cakes, BBQ and fried empanadas.

A young boy performs with an accordion during a Festa Junina celebration in Florianopolis, Brazil.Michael Fox/The World

It’s a celebration of food, music and culture, but not the Brazilian culture many people think of. It’s called Festa Junina, or “June Festival,” Brazil’s traditional harvest celebration, and people dress like country folk and farmers in checkered shirts and frilly dresses to remember their ancestors who arrived in Brazil and cleared and tilled the land.

“I’m so happy,” said Cátia Prestes, a festival attendee. “I’m reliving the past: The music from the accordion. Inspired by the harvest. The agriculture. The people from the countryside. It’s such a mixture. Long live Brazil.”

Cátia Prestes (R) enjoys Festa Junina celebrations because it gives her a chance to relive Brazil’s past and celebrate the people from the countryside.Michael Fox/The World

Brazilians have been celebrating this for the last month. Most schools and community centers hold their own parties, and the church also plays a central role. 

Father Eugênio Luedke Filho leads the Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church, and he even wears a plaid shirt and straw hat to mark the occasion.

“It’s a time for the families to come together with traditional food, with traditional music, with traditional games for this time of the year,” he said. “It’s a time to bring family and community together and celebrate together.”

Father Eugênio Luedke Filho, who leads the Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church in Florianopolis, Brazil, said Festa Junina celebrations are meant to honor a series of saints whose days fall during the month of June.Michael Fox/The World

He explained the celebrations honor a series of saints whose holy days fall during June. The most important is Saint John, whose day falls on June 24, near the summer solstice and roughly halfway to Christmas.

A decorative sign reads, “Long Live St. John,” as locals gather near a school in Florianopolis, Brazil to celebrate Festa Junina. Michael Fox/The World

In southern Brazil, these festivities already have a distinct Christmas feel. 

In a local school yard, people drink mulled wine and sing Festa Junina songs around a large bonfire. The fire is said to represent the flame that was lit by Saint John’s mother the night he was born.

One tradition of Festa Junina includes drinking mulled wine and singing Festa Junina songs around a large bonfire. The fire is said to represent the flame that was lit by Saint John’s mother the night he was born.Michael Fox/The World

“I loved making the fire,” said Sergio Menezes. When he was young, he said, each neighborhood would compete to see who could build the best bonfire. “This is always a really happy time for me, representing renewal, hope, family — and festivity.”

Historians say Portuguese and Spanish immigrants brought the June Festival celebrations to Brazil when they colonized the country centuries ago. Over the years, their traditions were mixed with African and Indigenous practices. So now, in many schools, children dance around a maypole, and they also perform Maculelé, an Afro-Brazilian dance with sticks related to the martial art Capoeira.

Schoolchildren dance around a maypole, usually a tall wooden pole that is decorated for the occasion.Michael Fox/The World

“It’s this mixture of all of these cultural elements that were brought here. And it’s so special and rich,” said Karina Hatta, a Brazilian artist of Japanese descent. “It seems like they brought everything, mixed it together and it worked out. Even though it’s cold, these festivities bring this inner warmth. This warmth of the spirit and union that is Brazilian.”

The celebrations are particularly huge in northeastern Brazil. Some towns hold massive carnival-like parties that are the biggest events of the year, and millions of people turn out. The region is also the birthplace of Forró, the traditional June Festival style of music. It’s said farmers and workers there would sing this as they gathered the crops.

During Festa Junina, you can find many people dressed as country folk or farmers in checkered shirts and frilly dresses.Michael Fox/The World

“It’s a party for the saints,” said Lais Peres, another celebration attendee. “And it’s also for remembering northeastern Brazil. And all of the cultures. Every region of Brazil brings something different to the table.” 

In the south, boiled Pinhão, a big tasty pine nut that is abundant this time of year, is on the menu. 

Families watch as annual Festa Junina performances take place near a local schoolyard. Michael Fox/The World

Julia Melo told The World she’s happy to pass down all these traditions to her daughter.

“We love the June festivals, because it’s different entertainment from what we have today, away from the screens and technology,” she said. “It’s a collective festival with good food and music that reflects really important values around unity and simplicity.”

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