The Festival of San Juan is one of the major festivals of the Paraguayan year. It is celebrated in every corner of the country and is traditionally held on 24th June, the Feast of St John. However in practice as it is also a major fund raiser for every school, church and football club festivals are held over the course of a few weeks so as to attract as large a crowd as possible by avoiding clashing with other nearby events.

The effect of this is that for much of June and July there will be a festival of San Juan being held somewhere nearby every weekend.

In Paraguay San Juan is also the winter festival. Therefore it is only natural that whilst the audience is wrapped up warmly against the cold much of the traditional games that take place involve fire.

Of the traditional games there is only one that will only be preformed if the festival is taking place on the Feast of St John. This is firewalking. The participants require the saints blessing before stepping onto the hot coals. A path 10 to 15 metres in length is lain with red hot coals from a large fire. Barefoot this glowing path will be walked one at a time by people trusting in their faith to protect them from the fire. It does appear to work and after the boldest have walked the coals then a steady stream of volunteers builds wishing to prove their faith also.

I have only seen this performed a few times but no one seems in any way harmed by the red hot rocks they are passing over barefoot.

The other traditional games of San Juan pose less threat to life and limb and so are participated in by anyone who so wishes. It is though high spirited children and youngsters who are the keenest to get involved.

The first of these also involves fire and as far as I can tell is more dangerous for the audience than for those taking part. Tata Ball. That is a free for all football match in the dark with a flaming ball. The ball is soaked in petrol of the like, set alight and them the match continues until the ball burns itself out. The score and the winners are not as important as the kicking around of a ball of fire. I rather doubt that the position of goalkeeper is a popular one.

After that there is the Bull Candle. This a a small tent made of bamboo and canvas on front of which is attached the skull of a cow. The whole device is carried on the shoulders of someone inside the tent. The skull is the set alight and heads off to career through the audience causing as many people as possible to jump out of the way before the tent catches fire and it become to hot to carry. A cause of much hilarity as people are chased by the flaming beast.

San Juan though is of course not only about fire. Another of the popular and ever present games is Yvra Syi. This is simply a tall greased pole from the top of which hang prizes. Chipas, bottles of cana, small amounts of money or anything else that was as hand when the pole was raised. This tends to just be studied until youngsters having played Tata Ball come looking for a way to continue their excitement.

Being 10 or more metres tall and thickly greased climbing the post and claiming a prize is not easy. Many failed attempts will be made with much amusement to all before working as a team the pole is finally scaled. On some occasions the the task proves just too difficult and eventually everyone gives up climbing and sets about uprooting the pole instead.

Aside from these games, which not everyone will wish to take part in there are other things to watch. There will always be a display of Paraguayan dancing with boys and girls in traditional dress and some singing. In addition there is always a short play. Slap stick comedy so that even those that can not hear can laugh at the jokes. Normally this will poke fun at current events or well known personalities.

To keep everyone going stalls sell traditional foods such as empanadas, chipas and tortillas or imported snack foods like hot dogs.

Here in the countryside at least once all the festivities of San Juan are over the music is turned up, the beers come out and a fiesta of drinking and dancing carries on through to the early hours.

Then the next afternoon the rubbish will need tidying away and the proceeds counting to see how successful the raising of funds had been this year. Before enquiring who will be holding a San Juan next week…