Sanjoaninas – the biggest festival in the Azores

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Ostatnia aktualizacja: 2020-05-03. Autor: Milena

The Sanjoaninas are the biggest profane festival in the whole Azores.

It’s 10 days of celebrating St. John’s Day (St. John is in Portuguese São João) and Angra. And now short explanation of two things. The first thing – yes, it’s a profane festival, and yes, it’s a festival of St. John. It’s something like Midsummer Night in Poland – it also has pagan roots. The second thing – the Sanjoaninas are parties of Angra, the capital of Terceira. But everybody participates. The whole island, the whole archipelago, Portuguese from the mainland, tourists from all around the world. There’s enough place for everybody.

Sanjoaninas Tercera Azores

The Sanjoaninas are a festival full of joy and local folklore.

They date back to the XVI century. It means that the first habitants of Terceira started celebrating not long time after getting to the island. The form naturally evolved. In 1934, an opening courtroom with royal retinue showed up for the first time. It’s a tradition that survived until now. Every year a topic of the parade is chosen. It’s always connected with the history and tradition of the island. Every year there’s also a queen of the Sanjoaninas, chosen from local girls. She moves on a specially prepared platform and greets the audience. Around her there are also her courtiers, also on fancy platforms, and the whole retinue.

Sanjoaninas Tercera Azores marchas

During the Sanjoaninas you can also see numerous dancing groups and philharmonic orchestras.

The volunteers dressed up in dashing and/or traditional costumes first train for weeks, then present themselves on the first night of Sanjoaninas. They flow through the streets of Angra, dancing and singing special songs prepared especially for Sanjoaninas. Behind them there’s usually an orchestra, also composed of volunteers, which plays the melody for the dancers.

Sanjoaninas Tercera Azores marchas

What is beautiful in these parades, also known as marchas, is that everybody can take part in them. You can see there the old, the young, the fat, the skinny, the tall, the shirt, the ones who can sing and the ones who are tone-deaf.

Sanjoaninas Tercera Azores marchas

The Sanjoaninas combine tradition, culture and gastronomy.

On every corner you can see so called tascas (singular: tasca) – food/drink stalls. They are usually full of traditional local delicacies: morcela (local blood sausage), linguiça (local sausage), alcatra (something like stew), bifana (roll with chop), tremoços (lupin beans), lapas (limpets), steaks, fish… Yes, that’s right – mainly meat. There’s also a lot of beer. Microbeer. Small local beer has 0,2 l. they also drink wine and sangria here. And caipirinha – a delicious Brazilian drink based on cachaça – alcohol made of sugar cane. (If you want to drink great caipirinha, look for João’s tasca).

Sanjoaninas Tercera Azores lapas
Lapas – skałoczepy / limpets

Watch out, a commercial – this year I’m also doing a tasca! My friends invited me to their project – and I willingly got to work. Although I’m terrified by the amount of work and I’m wondering if I can do it, I’m also very glad. It’s a new experience for me and a fresh look at my favourite festival on the island. We will have a delicious wood fired pizza! And an amazing view to the marina in Angra (at least before the sunset). It will be great!

HERE you will find the link to the event on the Facebook. There’s a map there and all the information. You can also follow me on the Instagram to see the progress of our works.

And what about the culture and the tradition?

I focused so much on food (it seems that I’m hungry!) that I’ve almost forgotten about the tradition and the culture. They are visible at every corner too. Because the Sanjoaninas – these are not only the parades, but also decorated streets, bedcovers hanging on the balconies and lots of activities. Concerts, sports events (regatta, kayak competitions, urban climbing, tennis tourneys, etc.), parades of different groups (e.g. scouts), theater shows on the stages and on the streets, exhibitions, handicraft fairs… At the Midsummer night, in the morning, there’s also jumping over the fire and eating sardines – fish almost as typical for Portugal as codfish.

Of course there have to be also attractions connected to bulls. During the Sanjoaninas there are also traditionas touradas (I wrote about them in the article Tourada à corda), including tourada à corda in Porto Pipas – a port in Angra, bull runs in the streets and bull fights in arenas – with toreadors on the horses or without horses. These bull fights are the most controversional entertainment. The bulls in Portugal don’t get killed, but one can’t pretend that they are not getting hurt. However, there are still fewer opponents than supporters of it. As I mentioned – touradas are still one of the most important social events on the island.

One works to live and does not live to work.

Terceira’s habitants like having fun. There are numerous reason for celebration on the island, and the Sanjoaninas perfectly fit into the philosophy that one works to live and does not live to work. (St. John’s day is a holiday here!) As it is a small island with very limited chances of professional development, very few people commit themselves to their careers. Work is rather a source of income and social relations that self-actualization. Thereupon, the majority of people focuses on their private life. The Sanjoaninas, the Festas da Praia, the Carnival, touradas, Festas do Espírito Santo, festivities in all the villages – these are occasion for expressing joy and closening social bonds.

And if you live in a small community, bonds are important. Well, if you live in a big community, they are important as well, but we tend to forget about it. And that’s a pity. Because – as my aunt usually says – the more the merrier. Which you can perfectly see during the Sanjoaninas, when sometimes it’s difficult to get from one side of the street to the other. And no, it’s not because the streets are as long as Aleje Jerozolimskie (one of the longest streets in Warsaw, the capital of Poland). It’s because every 5 steps you meet some friends. And chat. And suddenly you know where so much joy during the Sanjoaninas is coming from! I highly recommend it and I hope to see you there!

PS You can look up the program of the Sanjoaninas HERE. if you had a problem with decoding Portuguese, let me know, I will help you if I can! 🙂

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