Monday, July 20, 2009

Dia de San Juan

Dia de San Juan is a big holiday in Paraguay, and as far as I know, every other predominantly Catholic country.

I think the premise is something like San Juan can’t see anything you do on this day, and San Juan liked games and fire. So all over the country, people throw parties to honor this saint. Even though there is a specific day, the festivities start shortly before the actual day and continue for a week or so afterwards. They have a ton of traditional games and food to go along with the holiday. The kids celebrate at school during the day with games like draw the tail on the pig (a variant of pin the tail on the donkey), piñata but with ceramic pots instead of piñatas, and some of the pots contain water, others flour, and some candy. Another game is like a sac race.

At night the adults celebrate. In one game, they wrap a soccer ball in pantyhose, set it on fire, and then play a game of soccer with the ball of fire. This is crazy to see especially when three or four balls are going at once. Balls of Fire are flying all over the place. One ball came flying towards me but missed by about a foot or so. Another game is to grease up a long pole and put prizes at the top. People have to try to climb to the top to get the prizes, but they can’t get a grip so they keep falling down. I hear a common strategy used is to create a human staircase. They couldn’t manage to get to the top of the pole during the one I saw, so they just shook it until it fell down. While the activities are going on there is a designated person dressed as a bull, whose horns are set afire. The bull then runs through the crowd and tries to cause chaos. But his whole mission is to get Caña and cigarettes, which are guarded by someone with a stick. Anytime the bull gets close, the guard pelts him with the stick. The bull has to try to wait until the guard is distracted to have a chance to go grab his Caña and cigarettes, which are usually located in a hole. These are but a few of the fun and totally safe games played during San Juan. The Kambá are a designated group of people who participate in all the games. They come to the party dressed either as a woman or in costumes that are like a cross between Tacky Day and Halloween. Then they proceed to dance and grope all over each other and just generally run amok. They play fight, fall down, scare kids and girls, and harass adults for coins, cigarettes, and Caña. After dancing a while, they go out and play the games I was talking about before. There are also foods typical to the holiday. I don’t remember much about them except for the fact that they are, like most foods in Paraguay, fried and consist mostly of carb-based ingredients.

Parties are held at parks, houses, schools, and even Churches. The schools will organize a San Juan party in which the children will start the night off by dancing traditional Paraguayan dances while dressed in traditional Paraguayan outfits. Then the Kambá will come out and dance, play the games, and run amok. All this is followed by a normal dance. During all the activities, refreshments (popcorn, beer, sodas, empanadas, mbeju, sticks with meat on them, etc...) are sold.

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