Fiesta de San Juan

Every June 24th, Paraguayans celebrate the feast of San Juan. In the weeks leading up to the day, there are many celebrations featuring traditional food, games and customs.

Some of the traditional games seem downright dangerous and many involve fire – walking across hot coals, setting aflame a figure drenched in kerosene and stuffed with fireworks, being chased by a fake bull with flaming horns, kicking around a cloth ball covered in kerosene and set on fire. Other traditions even without an incendiary component still seem potentially dangerous. For example, in one game a rooster is starved for 24 hours and then put in a bag. Unmarried girls, each with chicken feed in their hands, surround the rooster who is released. According to tradition, the girl who is first to feed to rooster will get married that year.

Last weekend our church had its San Juan festival.

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The festival featured a bake sale, some small non-fire-related games and a mechanical bull. Danny loved the bull, but Patrick did not.

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The festival also had a little soccer field. Danny, oblivious to the fact that he was at least half the size and a quarter the age of the other kids, absolutely loved playing soccer. He’s a little unclear on the rules though and would often pick up the ball and throw it. The big kids didn’t seem to mind and were very patient with Danny’s involvement in their game.

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Last week, the boys’ school hosted its own San Juan festival featuring child-appropriate versions of many of the traditional Paraguayan games.

They boys played a game where they tried to grab egg-shaped candy from a toy rooster.

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Thankfully the boys didn’t actually play with a ball of fire, but they did play with a homemade plastic ball made to look like a ball of fire.

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Patrick and his friend Sofia played “carrera de bolsa” (a Paraguayan version of sack races) where they were in plastic bags and jumped like little rabbits. The first to cross the line wins. Danny and Patrick have brought the spirit of San Juan to our house by nightly jumping on their beds like “conejitos” (little rabbits).

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On the day of San Juan, the boys went to school dressed in traditional Paraguayan clothes.

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Here’s Patrick’s class in their traditional clothes.

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Every family at the school brought in an artisanal Paraguayan item to teach the students about the country’s traditions and culture. We sent the boys to school with a wooden pitcher I had bought on my trip to Filadelfia.

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The boys had a great day celebrating with their classmates. And Brian and I weren’t too heartbroken when some of the game prizes they had won that day (a whistle, a tambourine and other obnoxious noisemakers!) broke or went missing.

Maybe if we practice, by next year the boys will be ready to walk across hot coals for the San Juan festival.

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