In Portugal, June is the month in which cities and villages across the county pay tribute to the patron saint of their town with celebrations.

In Porto, Portugal’s second largest city, they throw a HUGE street party on the night of 23 June to honor their favorite saint, São João (St. John). This celebration has taken place for six centuries, and over that time, many traditions have been created specific to the São João festival. Colorful streamers decorate the streets and little pots of herbs are placed in shop windows. People jump bonfires, to purify their virtues. And, they wash with dew, which on this night, is believed to be holy.

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Another funny tradition is to hit the one you love on the head with a leek or cloves of garlic! Over the years, this gentle bop to the head has become a sign of good luck. No one really knows how this tradition started, but in the 1960’s, a new element was added to this head-banging activity…..the plastic, whistling hammer!

According to those in the know at the Yeatman Hotel in Porto, the São João hammer “was invented in the 20th century by the owner of a plastics factory in Porto.” He was hoping to create a new toy product to add to his portfolio. He sold it successfully to university students, who enjoyed whacking each other over the heads at graduation parties. The silly party prop spilled over into the city-wide street celebration, and has remained a traditional element of Porto’s Sao João until today.

So, if you find yourself in Porto on the evening of 23 June, don’t be surprised it if you get bopped on the head with an inflatable hammer. It could be someone who thinks you’re cute!…or just wishing you good luck!

Sao Joao Hammers

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