Forget the sequinned bikinis and spangled headdresses of Carnival, if you want to look the part during Rio’s winter party season you’ll need to channel your inner country bumpkin.
That’s because throughout the months of June, July, and August (the Brazilian winter), a country-themed party – complete with straw hats and moonshine – is celebrated throughout Brazil. Festas Juninas roughly translate as “June Festivals,” but also extend into the next two months.
The parties, which have their origin in Northern European homages to Saint John (São João), became firmly established in the parched Northeast of Brazil in colonial times, with locals taking the opportunity to thank the saints for any rains they may have sent to water the crops.
More recently, they have become a cultural phenomenon in Rio de Janeiro and across wider Brazil, and throughout the winter it is common to see revellers heading out to these parties dressed in their take on a traditional northern peasant dress – think check shirt and dungarees for the boys, braided hair and check dresses for the girls, with blackened teeth and painted-on freckles optional extras. These costumes can be picked up relatively cheaply at the stores of Saara in downtown Rio
Once appropriately dressed, you’ll want to get further into the swing of things with the help of a warming dose of quentao. This is the Brazilian take on mulled wine: cachaca (what else?) infused with cinnamon and cloves and sweetened with honey or sugar. While it never gets really cold during the Brazilian winter, this should be enough to keep any slight chill at bay, leaving you free to try your hand at forro – the sultry Northeastern dance whose accordion-based sound provides the musical backdrop to the Festas Juninas. Don’t worry if you can’t dance a step – the locals will be happy to show you a few moves.
If you’ve drunk enough quentao, you might even want to try joining in one of the ”quadrilhas” or square dances, although do be warned that these can get quite complex so you will need to have some semblance of wits about you.
The parties, which range from small neighborhood gatherings to huge parties attracting big-name musicians, are a good place to try Brazilian comfort food, much of which is based on corn. Canjica (a sweet dish of white corn cooked with cinnamon), maize biscuits, cakes, and pipoca (popcorn, often livened up with squares of bacon and cheese) are all easy to come by.
Country-themed games such as Bucking Broncos are also common at these parties, along with bonfires, fireworks displays, and live music performances.
The largest of the Festas Juninas in Rio takes place annually at Quinta Da Boa Vista – the large park that houses the National Museum and Rio’s city zoo. Free to enter, this year’s event saw Brazilian musical legends Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil heading the bill, alongside a wealth of other musicians. The event took place on the afternoon of Sunday, June 12, which happily coincided with Dia dos Namorados – the Brazilian version of Valentine’s Day.
Other major parties take place at the Jockey Club in Jardim Botanico from June 17-19 (entrance R$30), with smaller events taking place in Centro, Santa Teresa, Ipanema, Copacabana and Leblon throughout the winter months.
Photo courtesy of Lucy Bryson