Are Brazil’s Catholic Street Festivals Idolatry or Harmless Fun? Evangelicals Weigh In

Second only to Carnival, festivals for St. Anthony, St. John, and St. Peter pack the June calendar. Pastors debate if the Festas Juninas are folk celebrations or idol worship.

When it comes to festivals, the world knows Brazil best for Carnival, its raucous celebration of Mardi Gras, full of elaborate costumes, dancing on the street, and revelry.

But ask many Brazilians, and they’ll tell you they enjoy their June festivals even more. Originating from European pagans to celebrate the arrival of summer and call for a bountiful harvest (hence the fact that they fall during the Northern Hemisphere’s summer), these fests were later co-opted by the Catholic church under Festa Junina, or a set of holidays celebrating saints Anthony, John the Baptist, and Peter. Later, Portugal exported the holiday to colonial Brazil, which has since transformed the festivities into a multiweek celebration marked by eating canjica (a dessert made from white corn kernels dipped in a broth of milk, cinnamon, and cloves) and pamonha (creamed corn cooked inside corn husks), decorating streets with colorful flags, and streaming forró and baião songs from speakers.

Traditionally, those street parties were part of broader Catholic celebrations that included Masses and processions accompanied by images of the saints. Devotees followed, and many used this time to pay off promises made to the saints, which included walking on their knees as a penance or making donations to the parish.

Despite its Christian heritage, like Carnival, many evangelicals have similarly scorned Festa Junina, deeming Roman Catholic devotion to saints as idolatry. While some say that the word Junina comes simply from the name of the month, Junho (June), others say it stems from Joanina and is a nod to Saint John the Baptist, consequently making it a form of hagiolatry (worship of saints). In fact, the most celebrated festival is named …

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