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Brazilian June feasts (Rio de Janeiro)

If you've been around for more than a year now, you've probably already seen it.

If this is your first year in Brazil, you will soon notice somewhere close to you.

Now if you have never been in any FESTA JUNINA, you got to try it.

People talk about Carnival, but this is one of the richest traditions in Brazilian folk culture. A typical Brazilian 'festa junina' (feast of June) is a series of folk parties and festivals which happen all along June and July, usually around the days that commemorate popular Catholic saints.

The calendar goes as follows:
. 13, June - St. Anthony
. 24, June - St. John
. 29, June - St. Peter and St. Paul
. 30, June - St. Martial

But any evening in June you can see some of them happening on streets, squares and corners.

In Rio, they are more common in the North Zone and lower-class suburbs than in downtown, but even in the South Zone you can occasionally find them. When set in a churchyard, it is called a 'quermesse'.

One of the largest festas juninas in town is the Pavilhão de São Cristóvão (St. Christopher Pavillion), a large colosseum-like circle where typical Northeast musicians and vendors gather to play, sell drinks and food.

Festas Juninas are a heritage of the Middle-Age European feasts of harvest, celebrated around the Summer solstice in the North, but here in the Southern hemisphere it happens in early Winter. However, since Winter in Rio or northeastern Brazil is never that cold, but usually mild, you can enjoy these open-air parties.

Everything happens around a huge bonfire, in a yard called 'arraial' (or 'arraiá' in slang). Firecrackers and balloons are also a main feature (though officially forbidden). Tiny coloured flamulas hang down everywhere, while regional musicians play accordeon, fiddle and harmonica.

When music begins, people start a kind of country dance called 'quadrilha' with highly coreographed steps. If you don't want to miss it but don't want to feel clumsy, grab an opposite-sex pair and follow the others. It's only fun if danced in groups.

At some point of the party, there will be a simulated 'marriage', usually acted by the hosts or someone chosen randomly. The usual scene is that the father of the bride will take the groom to the altar under the barrel of a gun, 'for a matter of honour'.

Clothing is another important feature. People wear folk costumes, like tartan farmer shirts (it resembles Oregon lumberjack flannels) for guys and country dresses (like American dixie) for girls.

As for eating and drinking, you should not miss the following delicacies:

. quentão (lit. 'big hot') - a drink made of cachaça (sugarcane spirit), ginger, sugar and spices
. canjica - a sweet porridge made of corn, coconut and milk
. pamonha - either sweet or salty dough also made of corn, wrapped in corn leaves
. batata doce - sweet potato, baked on the fire like a marshmallow
. cocada - coconut candy
. rapadura - sugarcane dried (and hardened) molasses
. pé-de-moleque - a candy made of rapadura and peanuts
. paçoca - candy made of smashed peanuts (but not like butter)