June 23 of each year, the city of Oporto gets ready for one of its most festive nights. From yearly hours of the morning, a sea of people rushes down to the Douro river, coming down like a continuous waterfall from the central Rua das Flores towards Praça da Ribeira. Portuguese music and beer complete the atmosphere next to some confused tourists, who are not understanding why the locals are hitting them with a squeaky rubber hammer.
But what does Saint John have to do with hammers? Not much. However, you don’t live the night of June 23 to 24 as a portuense, if you don’t hit or get hit with the squeaky plastic hammers. This tradition began in 1963, when city’s industrialist - Manuel Boaventura - created the hammer toy and offered it to the students at Queima das Fitas. Following the success, students took the hammers again at the night of Saint John festival. Next year, more people wanted to join this curious custom of greeting each other with a friendly hammer blow to the head. Five years later, the hammers completely inundated the city, and the City Hall prohibited them, claiming that it was not part of the tradition.
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The result of that attempt is evident to anyone who wants to get anywhere near to Oporto at Sain John. And that’s the way traditions are: elements are added, others are removed, its meaning is altered… they change, after all. For thousands of years, the dawn of June 24 celebrates the arrival of the summer and the shortest night of the year. It has been a pagan and Christian festival, it has had bonfires, garlic, sardines and hammers. Just one element remains unchanged: the spirit of fun. So don’t doubt, if you want to live a magical and memorable night, come to Oporto on June 23.