Bring together lots of people on a chilly night, hot mulled wine, dancing, great food, and questionable pyrotechnics. Then add a dangerously huge bonfire, fun costumes, and you have Brazil's Festa Junina!
Festa Junina dates back to Portuguese colonization. Junina began to incorporate a hodge podge of Brazilian traditions along with the Portuguese. These festivities begin at the beginning of the Brazilian winter in June. This festival commemorates the famous Catholic saints, Saint Anthony, Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Peter. Junina also is a celebration to honor the beginning of the rainy season, the harvest season, and matrimony.
Dale and I were staying home in Joinville for the weekend. The weather was cold and rainy but we were tired of sitting around the house. I decided I wanted to get out of the house and celebrate Festa Junina like the Brazilians. I asked my Brazilian friends for a great place to visit and they told us about São João do Itaperiu. São João do Itaperiu boasts the largest Junina festival in the state of Santa Catarina. Over 40,000 people visit their festival every year. This year also happened to be the 100 year anniversary of their festival. We were sold. So we hopped into the car - not sure what to expect - and headed out.
Sights, Flavors, and Sounds of the Festa Junina
Quentão de Vinho
Quentão is traditional to the south of Brazil. This is their version of mulled wine. Quentão is wine mixed with ginger, sugar, clove, and cinnamon. It is the perfect drink on a chilly southern Brazil winter night! It was so good I had about 3 of them. I had to slow down a little because I was getting a little buzzed!
Pinhão is another traditional winter treat in Brazil. It is a type of pine nut that they boil in water and you can eat. Also it is served in many dishes during the winter months. It is another treat local to the southern states in Brazil. This was our first time trying pinhão and we loved it. I didn’t love picking the shells out of my braces, but it was worth the hassle!
All I can say is wow! Yet another wonderful southern dish. The gauchos in southern Brazil know how to cook meat. This dish is a giant meat plate of all different meats mixed together along with a few small grilled veggies. Ours came with fries, bread, and farofa to dip our meat into. Farofa is a toasted cassava mixture you use on your meat and beans. To us, farofa doesn’t have much of a flavor. We once overheard a girl from South Africa go on about how it's her favorite food item here in Brazil. We still are not sure what the hype is but maybe someday we will figure it out.
These are the Brazilian kebabs. They are everywhere in Brazil that draws any type of crowd. They have kebobs made of steak, chicken, pork, sausages, and even chicken hearts. Yes, chicken hearts are eaten here, and in my opinion they are not bad. With all the amazing cuts of beef you can eat in Brazil I usually don’t go straight for the chicken hearts. I did try them once and they were tasty and rich.
You can get churros just about anywhere in Brazil, but let me tell you why Brazil makes the best churros in the world! In the United States churros are dry and sprinkled with cinnamon. They are good with ice cream. In Brazil they are a little softer and the inside is stuffed with chocolate or doce de leite. It is my opinion that Brazil churros are far superior and Brazil wins the Churro competition over Mexico, USA, and Spain, hands down!
Desserts in General
There were a lot of booths selling all types of delicious desserts, from chocolate covered strawberries, to truffles, flavored popcorn, coconut candy, tapioca, and crepes. In Brazil, tapioca is a crepe like treat made out of manioc flour with any type of filling you chose, but most common is milk or white chocolate. Crepes in Brazil are made out of what we would consider pancake or waffle batter. They use flour, milk, and eggs and then using a special waffle iron, cook the batter and melt chocolate inside. Usually they are served on a stick. These desserts are all fabulous!
Lots and Lots of Booze
The quentão was awesome, but if you don’t like wine, you won’t be disappointed. The people who come to this festival love a good party. There were drink booths everywhere. Some even had cool cups you could use that glow in the dark. You can order just about any mixed drink you like, or stick to beer. They had plenty of beer as well. The festival crowd started to grow as the night wore on, and the booze booth activity began to pick up.
Dancing and Live Music
During Junina bands take to the stage and the revelers participate in Brazilian country dancing and line dancing. Men and women were twirling all over the dance floor to a fun beat and accordion music.
Carnival Rides and Games
This festival has something for everyone, including children. There was a Brazilian version of a Ferris wheel, various rides of questionable maintenance, and carnival games.
During Junina people dress up as farmers. Children dress up at school and some adults dress up at work. Men will wear beards, moustaches, short trousers, and flannel shirts. Women wear their hair in pigtails, draw freckles on their faces, and wear checkered dresses. You also see a lot of people wearing straw hats.
There were booths selling all types of toys, clothes, balloons, glow in the dark items, and various other souvenirs.
Fireworks and Bonfire
That seems a little too close!
I've saved the best and scariest two for last. We overheard someone say the fireworks start at 11p.m. So a little before 11p.m. we went up a dirt road and stood next to a water truck so we could get a good spot. We were laughing at ourselves for going even a few minutes early because we know that in Brazil nothing starts on time. We were right. While we were waiting, the guy driving the water truck decided to run the engine for a while to get it warmed up. This blew a cloud of diesel fuel smoke into the crowd of men, women, and children. We were all coughing and our eyes were burning. Everyone cheered when he finally turned off the truck. The next day our throats were sore and I was coughing. Diesel fumes cannot be good for your health!
Eventually - after several cross checks, people running out and back to the bonfire tower, some guys climbing a pole and fixing the electrical wires - at 11:45 p.m. the firework show began. It was worth the wait and inhalation of diesel fumes. I have never seen a fireworks pyrotechnic show from so close before! In the United States everyone would be concerned with safety and this would never happen. It was so close and bright it hurt our eyes and ears, but it was awesome! Then they lit up the bonfire tower and fireworks started shooting out everywhere before they rained down the tower and it lit up with the words 100 anos - or “100 years”.
We stayed after the crowd thinned out and watched the bonfire for a while. It was 30 meters high and a little too close in our opinion to the crowd. We couldn’t help but think if this tower collapsed that debris would hit us, but it was so cool that I joked and told Dale ,“YOLO” (you only live once), but some have a little less time to “YOLO” than others"!
There is something about a bonfire that brings people together and makes them nostalgic. My favorite part of the festival was hanging out with Dale watching the bonfire, sharing memories of bonfires past with good friends we miss, and talking about our future travels and plans. We also got a kick out of the people running up too close to the tower of fire taking photos.
We are glad we took the time to go to this festival. It almost didn't happen as we were tired and it was cold and raining. Since we have no clear idea of how long we will actually be staying in Brazil, we are trying to take full advantage of our time here and experience as much as we can. While I poke fun at the “YOLO” hats and gear (because I am getting older and people like to use this acronym for when they do something stupid), the saying does ring true. We only live once and as you get older time seems to speed up. So embrace life and get out of your fuzzy pajamas, turn off the television, get off your butt, and go experience the world. Even if it is attending your local farmer’s market or going to an event you have never been to in your own home town. Don’t waste years of your life sitting on the couch watching or thinking about how other people live! YOLO with the best of them and, who knows, you may find something new and different that you love. Or, make some awesome memories with the people you love just standing around a bonfire watching people do dangerous and stupid stuff!