Sao Joao Festival Goa

Viva Sao Joao in Goa: All You Need to Know

Goa is well known not only as a great beach destination but also as the land of festivities, joy, and celebration. If you have lived in Goa during the monsoons, you have definitely come across or celebrated Sao Joao or San Joao. This festival held at the beginning of monsoons, June 24th to be exact, is one of the most important festivals of the Catholic community in Goa. The Christain influence in Goa is because Goa was once under Portuguese rule. This joyous and colorful festival that honors Saint John the Baptist is celebrated with great pomp and vigor by not only the Christian community but by all Goans as well. Sao Joao is particularly sacred to newlyweds, new parents and people who have just bought new houses

Historical Significance Of Sao Joao Festival

According to Christian scriptures, St. John The Baptist leaped with joy in his mother Elizabeth’s womb when Mary broke the news of expecting Jesus to her. Hence this festival is also celebrated as the Festival of Fertility as young, to-be mothers make offerings to God for a child. The jumping into the well is considered to be a representation of the womb while the leap indicates the joy and happiness experienced with Jesus Christ’s birth.

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Celebrations

Every June 24th, during the monsoon, Goans celebrate Sao Joao in Goa in dedication to John the Baptist. The festival of Sao Jao brings families and friends together during the seasonal showers. It’s a festival which is celebrated with glee by jumping in wells, rivers, pools, etc. The men mostly partake in the activities during the festival although there are many women who do get involved too. One can also witness a lot of locals drinking Feni to get drunk and then chanting ‘Sao Joao…Viva Sao Joao’. before jumping into the wells, lakes, and ponds.

Noel Fernandes recalls, “Sao Joao has always been one of my favorite festivals growing up. A few of us would gather in the morning near our chapel before we headed out visiting each and every house with the “Ghumot (local drum) and Kansallem (cymbals), singing Mandos. The group would get larger as passersby and villagers would join after hearing the sound of the Mandos and the drums. Villagers would be kind enough to offer us some alcohol to keep the spirits high along with seasonal fruits like mangoes, jackfruits, pineapples and of course not forgetting the traditional Goan Patolleos. We would never miss jumping in each and every well. This day would normally end by around 3 or 4 in the evening and all of us would go back to our homes to enjoy lunch with our families.”

Sao joao ghumot goa

Sao Joao is celebrated with joyfulness and great fervor in several Goan villages such as Siolim, Assagao, Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna, and Chapora. Everyone eagerly waits for the main highlight of the day which is the “Sangodd” or boat parade. Jerom Gomes who is currently working as a chef at a prominent chain of hotels in the U.K. says, “My favorite memory of Sao Joao from Goa is when I was young, we had people from my village gathering in front of a well right in front of my house wearing colorful clothes and flowers crowns or copels, singing and dancing merrily. Some would jump into the well and others would partake in prayer for a better monsoon season. Later in the day, my dad used to take me to godma’s place in Candolim where they used to organize Sangodd” (float) on a lake behind her house. The boats would look colorful as they were uniquely decorated with flowers. People on the boat would sing Mandos and religious hymns.”

sao jao goa 2021

These members of this Sangodd would wear a uniform to differentiate themselves from other groups. Here, one can also observe floating platforms made by joining two boats or banana trunks, which are tied together and decked with coconut palms. Youngsters also get to showcase their talents on Sao Joao with the various competitions held during the day. Siolim is where you get to properly experience the sailing of the boats down the river and decorating competition.

A well-known advocate from Goa, Atanasio Monteiro says, “During my childhood days, in my village Merces, I would watch a procession of villagers moving from one house to the other singing Mandos and crowning the villagers with festive headgear. In the evening my family and I would burn paddy straws to announce Sao Joao is over and celebrate the end of this marvelous festival with food, drinks, and music. Many don’t know that on Sao Joao, sons-in-law from various households would visit their in-laws on this day and after all the ceremonies jump in the well in excitement.”

A Video showing all the well-known traditions of Sao Joao

Omkar Gaonkar narrated to us, “My memories with the festival start when I would be around 5 years old and our neighbors would celebrate the festival with pomp. My dad would take me to “wadeachi bai” (well of the village) where everyone would offer prayers and jump inside and merrily party the whole day. The day before the festival, all the young boys and girls would decorate the well with green leaves and flowers. One amazing thing about Sao Joao is that I never saw my friends decorating the well with thermocol or plastics. This shows the nature-friendly characteristics of this native festival.”

Sao joao festival goa 2021

If you are looking for a more commercial scene, then pool parties and private Sao Joao parties are your go-to places on the festival day where famous music bands, DJs, and dancers from Goa perform. Keeping the mood colorful and festive, most hotels and guesthouses organize pool parties. In the capital city Panjim, the Goa Tourism Development Corporation organizes a Sao Joao cruise from the Santa Monica Jetty Goa. Larsen Fernandes, a DJ from Goa started his DJ career on Sao Joao day where he played quite a number of shows in 2019. He said. “Sao Joao is like a carnival experience for me. Even though I was playing at these parties and enjoying myself with my friends, the festive mood of Sao Joao made me feel like I was enjoying myself with my family. Before I started DJing, I would celebrate Sao Joao by going with my friends to the nearest well and jumping into it.

Sao joao party goa 2021

Festive Delicacies

patolleo donne goa food

On Sao Joao, Goans enjoy the delicious Goan delicacy called “Patolleo“. Patolleo is made with finely ground rice flour with a filling of scraped coconut and jaggery mixed together. This mixture is wrapped in fragrant leaves such as patolleochim panam (haldi leaves) or banana leaf with the two sides of the leaf being stuck together. This leaf is then steamed and served hot. Another delicacy you will also find is the Sannas (rice cakes) and Donne or Holle. Donne is made with a similar batter as patolleo but stuffed in a cone-shaped jackfruit leaf and steamed. Sannas is made with rice soaked overnight and ground the next day with toddy and a sprinkle of salt. The ready batter is then placed in small round containers and steamed. Newly married couples or those couples with a newborn gather with a tali containing fruits such as monserad mango which is a Goan variety of mango, pineapples, jackfruits, and a bottle of feni. You can also find Patolleos and Sannas in these talis.

In spite of being away from Goa for the last 25 years, Goan culture and traditions are very close to Aldrin Meneses’s heart, an advocate of Goan culture. He recounts, “As a child, what I remember of Sao Joao is a very different and a very old traditional way of celebration. To my knowledge, this festival is celebrated to honor the son-in-law of the family. We celebrated this tradition by cooking Aad Mass (pork) with ‘Sannas’ and ‘Pulao’. Also, my maternal grandparents would send loads of fruits and ‘Caju Feni’ as a customary gift to their son-in-law, my dad. All the men from our village, both young and old would gather around the well and jump in to fetch the Caju Feni bottle from the bottom of the well while the rest would sing the Sao Joao songs.

Copel

On this auspicious day, locals in Goa wear the “Copel“, a headband or crown made from fresh flowers, fruit, vegetables, or vines attached together with a thread. You can also try your hand at making some beautiful crowns by participating in various Copel making competitions.

International Celebrations of Sao Joao

Having a day-long celebration with friends and family is still the Sao Joao trend nowadays, be it at home or at a resort by the poolside. Even though a lot of Goans have migrated to other countries, they still try to keep the Goan Sao Joao festival and its traditions alive wherever they might be. Aldrin Meneses tells us, “In the Middle-East where I am, it is always the Goan associations organizing a fiesta on the occasion of Sao Joao with live music, Goan food stalls, and loads of fun. It would be mostly on a Friday afternoon, Friday being the weekend, with a raffle, prizes, games, and loads of dancing.

Jerom Gomes says that many Goans including himself have kept the Sao Joao tradition alive in the U.K. after they moved there. He recalls, “Last year we got a bit lucky as there was no national mandatory lockdown imposed during the period of Sao Joao. Some local communities of Goans here in the U.K. organize pool parties since there are no wells or natural springs for them to jump into. So they usually hire a venue or a pub which has easy excess to a swimming pool. They then decorate the pool area with flowers and all sorts of colorful things. Goan food and alcohol are served and people sing and dance along to Goan music and other traditional Goan folk songs. This is organized mostly on a weekend. It is usually young adults and teenagers who celebrate Sao Joao in this manner here. Some Goans choose to celebrate the festival at home along with their family. They invite their friends and other family members over. The celebration gets even grandeur if there is a newlywed couple in the family. These people set up potable swimming pools in the backyard and fill them up a day before Sao Joao. Others set up a DIY sprinkler system with a pipe. Just like in Goa, everyone here decorates the yard with flowers, makes flower crowns, sets up a music system, bar counter, and bbq station. All the well-known Goan delicious are made. As far as traditions go, if a family has newlyweds during the period of Sao Joao, they visit other households with an offering of fruits. The people then pray for their marriage to prosper and blossom.”

Original São João Song by C. Alvares

The original Sao Joao song was sung by Celestino Santana Francisco Alvares, a tiatrist from the Golden Phase of Konkani tiatr. C. Alvarez was born on 1 August 1920 in the village of Saligao in Bardez, Goa, and made his professional debut on the tiatr stage at the age of 18 in Bombay. He has also acted in many hit Konkani films.

Pandemic and celebraion

In 2021, Sao Joao will be celebrated locally in Goa as well as internationally in different ways due to the ongoing pandemic. Everyone is looking at low-key celebrations to keep the tradition alive. Omkar Gaonkar tells us that, “Last year there wasn’t a much of a celebration. Everyone respected the lockdown and only a handful had gathered near the well. Only a few important traditions had been carried out by them. I am sure that prayers this year would defeat the pandemic and next year we will be able to celebrate the festival with ebullience.”

Aldrin Meneses strongly believes that Goans consider it their birthright to celebrate the amazing traditional festivities from Goa. He says, “I am sure people will find a way to celebrate Sao Joao perhaps in smaller intimate groups.” Gutted about not being able to celebrate Sao Joao in 2021 Noel Fernandes tells us, “Due to the ongoing pandemic, not being able to celebrate Sao Jao tugs a lot of heartstrings. But people could always celebrate this festival at home with their loved ones. Family members could wear the Kopel, sing traditional songs and also splash some water at home to keep the spirit of the festival alive. And of course, no Goan festival is complete without a great feast and a glass of feni.”

When it comes to the Goan community in the U.K. Jerom Gomes says that “I think this year the celebration is going to be similar to the previous years because at the moment the lockdown there is slight ease in the restrictions. I will mostly be celebrating with my family and friends in a quiet setting for a change.”

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