Throughout the month of June Porto offers a varied programme of São João celebrations. The highlight of the festivities is the Night of São João, from the 23rd to the 24th of June, when the city gets dressed up and the streets are filled with colour and scents, joy and high spirits.
The Sacred and Profane itineraries, as well as the São João programme illustrate the tradition and spread the history of this great celebration, carefully prepared and revamped each year, embraces all those activities that make June such a special month. In the Churches and Chapels, and particularly at this time, visitors can tour the altars dedicated to the saint and admire the artistic representations conjured up by renowned national and international
artists. In the streets, the cascatas (tableau), unique in Portugal, call the attention of passers by to a tradition that involves the representation, in miniature, of scenes from around the city and customs from times gone by.
They include houses, paths traced out in sand and moss, clay figurines, painted in lively colours, of people going about their daily business, working at their professions, many of which have now disappeared, and animals that, these days, are rarely seen inside the city. The most famous of these is the cascata das Fontainhas.
The festival programme has space for competitive activities too, such as the now traditional regatta of rabelo (port wine) boats which runs over a 1.5 km course from Foz do Douro to the Luis I Bridge. There are also activities along the riverside and more competition in the form of the S. João race and the contests for best cascata, shop window, rusga (romp) and folk dance celebrating S. João.
For this event the streets are crammed with ornaments and festive lighting, snack stalls, open air dances and amusements so that the people can celebrate a truly popular S. João in a spirit of revelry, conviviality, friendship and joy.
The night of the 23rd of June is the most jubilant of the year. Crowds of people come out onto the streets to celebrate this patron saint of amours. In the Baixa area the streets ring out with the cries of the sellers of the traditional basil plants, carnations, lemon verbena, gleeks and the modern hammers
that are used to dole out friendly whacks on the head to passers by and which spread like wildfire throughout the city from early on in the day, acting as harbingers of the fun that is coming later on. The S. João bonfires are set alight in the streets, by groups of neighbours and friends who prove their bravery by jumping right over the top of them.
On the Feast night or on the day of S. João, people eat caldo verde soup with cornbread, mutton, lamb or grilled sardines, pepper salad and, for dessert, egg and milk custard or S. João cake, deservedly washed down by a delicious Port Wine.
The traditional S. João balloons, made out of paper and brightly coloured, are carefully launched into the sky, providing an unparalleled spectacle of hundreds of ascending points of light.
At midnight on the 23rd of June, there are fireworks, or S. João fire, on the river. The banks of the Douro fill up with thousands of spectators who have come to watch the biggest show of the year, bursting with light, colour and emotion.
The night of S. João comes to a close at Foz do Douro, with people rowing out towards the sea until the dawn breaks.