Story Detail

06 Oct 2015

St. John’s Night in Porto: The Longest Night

Vox Orbis / 06 Oct 2015 Celebrations

Photo: Aliados Avenue at night in Porto, Portugal. Dani De La Cuesta/Flickr

Language: Portuguese (Português)

António Rufino

June 23 in Porto. It’s 9 p.m. and there’s still daylight; the last sun rays casting golden reflections on the roofs and streets. Shooting from everywhere I hear excited conversations where the same words always resound—“it’s São João.” As the night falls, I feel this joy materializing, turning into colorful plastic hammers aimed at the unwary heads around, into small hot air balloons offered to the heavens, into grilled sardines eaten in the middle of the street. The holiday, originally called “Beltane” by the Celts, was named “my dear Saint John” after the most popular of the Portuguese “popular saints.” Whether Christian or pagan it doesn’t matter; only celebrating does, merging the longest day and the longest night—the night that is now starting.

Photo: The Ribeira district spreads alongside the Douro river in Porto, Portugal. During the night of St. John’s holiday, the streets are packed with crowds. Andrea Ciambra/Flickr

Midnight—everything stops. I look at the sky, at the fireworks, flowers, trees, waterfalls, fiery forms hovering for seconds over the Douro River before fading away. The streets are thronged with people, all the people, from elderly ones who can barely move to little babies to tourists who don’t understand what’s hitting them but who join the party. When in Rome be a Roman, and in Porto that means going out into the streets tonight like there is no tomorrow, just to discover there is no tomorrow.

Photo: Night scene in the historical district of Ribeira next to the banks of the Douro River in Porto, Portugal. Benurs/Flickr

The sky gets quiet, time ceases to exist. Should I head to Aliados, the most central avenue in Porto, go down into Ribeira, the older part of town, or find one of the many popular balls? Even better—I’ll go from party to party, always dancing, always walking, giving and receiving hammer blows until arriving at the seaside at dawn. Only then I feel time exists again and a weariness grows in my body that makes me smile on the way back home: St. John’s Night is magical. I’m already waiting for the next one.

António Rufino for Vox Orbis, 2015