The Sao Joao Festival or the feast of St. John the Baptist is celebrated on the 24th of June every year in Goa. The occasion is one of the highlights of the monsoon season and brings a lot of fun and enjoyment for the local folk as well as tourists. The colourful celebration extends beyond the boundaries of tradition, emphasising the true goan spirit – passionate and fun loving.
The festival (also known as ‘San Joao’, its Spanish pronunciation) is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and has unique significance in Christianity. According to tradition, the celebration commemorates the excitement felt by the unborn John, who ‘leapt in joy’ in his mother’s womb when visited by Mother Mary. Young men in the villages replicate this gesture by jumping into wells, streams and ponds to retrieve gifts thrown in by the villagers. The young and old alike sing and dance to the beat of the ghumot and kansallem, with lovely coronets of seasonal flowers on their heads and ‘drenched to the bone’ with feni.”
On this day, Goan Catholics wear colourful dresses and ‘kopel’ (crown) which is a headgear of fresh and fragrant flowers, fruits and leaves. Merriment and colour are prominently visible in this festival, with villagers meeting near streams in carnival coloured boats and floats. The locals construct the Sangodd, a decorated floating platform, made by tying two boats or banana tree trunks together, which are then put into nearby streams to float and is an important part of the celebrations. Boat race, singing and dancing are predominantly the only activities done on the day of the feast.
Sanjay Chodnekar, General Manager, Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC), says, “We welcome the tourists to participate in this unique festival and experience our traditional Goan culture. Monsoons in Goa witness two major festivals – the Sao Joao and the Bonderam festival – that offer participants a peep into the traditional Goan culture.”
While Sao Joao is celebrated all over Goa, it is done so more boisterously up north especially in the villages of Anjuna, Siolim, Calangute, Assagao to name a few. The scenes of celebrations need to be seen to believe. People soaking themselves in the rains and ice cold well waters, and take fire burning shots of feni to keep themselves warm.