Top 5 traditions of São João festival in Porto

São João festival is the most important night of the year in Porto. Even though São João is not the official…

Sara Riobom
18 de June de 2016

São João festival is the most important night of the year in Porto. Even though São João is not the official Patron saint of Porto, we throw the biggest party you can imagine.
So big that I wrote an article to explain how to celebrate São João festival in Porto like a local 😀

During this festival in Porto, you’ll engage in local traditions that might seem a bit weird – the use of wilting leek and plastic hammers to greet people, launching hot air balloons, and so on.
So I did a quick guide explaining the Top 5 Traditions of São João festival in Porto. I hope you enjoy it 🙂

Top Traditions of São João festival in Porto

Greeting people with wilting leek and plastic hammers

plastic hammers sao joao porto traditions
© Tvi24

There are three crucial elements in São João festival in Porto: water, fire and herbs (as they have “magical powers”), the most important being sweet basil, wilting leek and lemon balm.
Wilting leek, in particular, symbolizes good luck. In the mid-nineteenth century, people moved during São João festival in raids, picking wilting leek on the way, and taking it back home. Then they would put it behind the front door to protect their home against evil spirits throughout the following year.
Furthermore, and one must remember that this tradition started during the nineteenth century (quite liberal, but not that much!), wilting leek was used by men as a way to make contact with ladies who crossed their way during the raids.
More recently, wilting leek was dethroned by plastic hammers – more practical, reusable and cheap, leaving the wilting leek as a nostalgic symbol of a time of “shy” dating 🙂 And this is how wilting leek made it to the top 5 traditions of São João festival in Porto!

Launching hot air balloons

hot air balloon sao joao porto
© black_wall

São João festival was built on the remnants of the pagan celebration of Summer solstice, which symbolised the abundance of crops and fertility, and thus inevitably connected to sun & fire worship.
In modern times, that is represented by hot air balloons, fireworks, and even bonfires.
On the top of that, launching hot air balloons has the beauty of being a group activity. And what a joy when it rises and becomes a bright dot in the sky!

Eating grilled sardines

sao joao porto eating grilled sardines
© www.noticiasoaminuto.com

According to historians, the typical food of São João festival in Porto used to be roasted lamb with potatoes, bread and hot coffee. However, not so many years so a man brought sardines left over from another festival, which takes place before São João’s.
Sardines were such a great success that it became the main dish of São João festival, much to our delight 🙂 And aren’t grilled sardines worth making it to the Top 5 traditions of São João festival in Porto?!

Building “Cascatas” dedicated to São João

build cascatas dedicated sao joao porto
© www.portopatrimoniomundial.com

Before I tell you about the tradition of “Cascatas”, let me explain to you the concept.
“Cascata” literally means cascade and, during São João festival,  they are representations of sceneries where water is strongly present (waterfalls, rivers, etc.). “Cascatas” typically reproduce typical places in Porto and painted clay figures represent people, professions and animals.
There is a certain parallelism between the Christmas scene (near the Winter solstice) and our “Cascadas” during São João festival. “Cascadas”, however, with its bright colors and funny figures, represent “the life of a village after harvest, and our gratitude for the abundance of life”. It is even said that Fontaínhas (a typical neighbourhood of Porto) only became a mandatory crossing point during São João festival when, in 1869, a resident set up a monumental “Cascada”, offering coffee to those who would come to see it. It is said that so many people came to see the beautiful “Cascada” (and to drink coffee, of course!), that since then Fontaínhas is a hot spot during the São João festival in Porto.

Take a bath in the river / ocean (for the bravest ones!)

sao joao porto take bath river ocean
© martins.nunomiguel

Water has been, for hundreds of years, not only a symbol of purity but also of fertility. Thus, during São João festival in Porto, it was customary for young ladies to take a bath in the river, to increase their fertility.
Nowadays, only the most adventurous (and, I dare say, drunk) people take a freezing bath on the beaches of Foz and Matosinhos, as the night goes by! I challenge you to do the craziest thing of the top 5 traditions of São João festival in Porto! 🙂

Save this article for later:

how celebrate sao joao porto
traditions sao joao festival porto portugal

Related tours

Half Day private tour in Porto (4h)
Behind-the-scenes access to Porto's well kept secrets.
From 80€ / person
Check Tour
Full Day private tour in Porto (7h)
The most exclusive wine lodge in Porto is waiting for you.
From 119€ / person
Check Tour
Private Jewish Heritage tour of Porto
Discover the hidden treasures of the Jewish history in Porto.
From 75€ / person
Check Tour
Private Wine tour in Douro Valley
Exclusive tour of family-owned wineries and hidden culinary gems.
From 135€ / person
Check Tour
River cruise and wine tour in Douro Valley
Enjoy award-winning wines, authentic Portuguese cuisine and amazing river views.
From 135€ / person
Check Tour

Related articles

Top places for an amazing breakfast in Porto

You already had a good night of sleep at your hotel / apartment in Porto, and now it is time…

Sara Riobom
30 de September de 2022
Complete guide to Christmas in Porto in 2023

The holiday season is one of the happiest times to be in our city, so I wrote this article with…

Sara Riobom
27 de November de 2023
What not to do in Porto

Every city has a list of mandatory activities, and Porto is no exception.Nonetheless, if you are 1) looking for a…

Sara Riobom
2 de March de 2020
Half Day private tour in Porto (4h)
Check Tour
FECHAR