Saint John’s Day: when Miranda dresses up for a party

Curiepe boils with joy and movement every June 23 and 24. Thousands of men, women and children dressed in red and white crowd into the town, dance to the sound of drums and have fun in one of the best-known celebrations in the state of Miranda, in north-central Venezuela. It’s about the feast of Saint John the Baptist.

The festivity, of colonial origin, mixes the Catholic religion with Afro-descendant culture and takes place in various places in the Miranda, Aragua and Vargas entities, from June 23 to 25.

However, the most outstanding celebrations are those of Curiepe. The adults drink rum and prepare huge pots of soup for those who are exhausted from moving their hips and feet to the rhythm of the Malembe, a popular piece of music; small children eat coconut candies or cakes with guava jelly, the older ones invent games; the church opens its doors for mass, tourists get stuck in impossible traffic, and fireworks are staged to light up the sky when the sun goes down.

Some women cut their hair around these dates, following the old belief that it will grow longer and stronger than ever. Tales and legends of oral tradition also abound.

Daniel Luchi, cultist and specialist in these festivities, assures that in 2019 a minimum of 3,300 people came to Curiepe to enjoy traditional activities and participate in the procession in honor of the saint. With the COVID-19 pandemic, which arrived in the country in March 2020, the event was held with restrictions for two years. But this time the easing of the quarantine allows the crowd to party freely.

“In the streets there is no room for a pin. We have streets full of vehicles with everything and the transit plan that we are executing hand in hand with municipal, state and national entities. The whole town is collapsed since the party started, this Thursday at 12:00 noon. With all the people who arrived this year it is difficult to count, “said Luchi.

A mix of cultures

Just over 300 years ago, black slaves who were brought to Venezuela from Africa celebrated Juan Congo, an African icon or prince. However, the church imposed on them the figure of Saint John the Baptist, a preacher and a character of great importance in the Bible.

Due to this, the celebration of San Juan in Curiepe is a fusion of cultures: Catholic rites and Afro-Caribbean joy together. Currently, devotees or sanjuaneros worship both San Juan Bautista and San Juan Congo. However, the image of the latter cannot enter Christian religious temples.

«Not only is the Catholic there. The African heritage marks the curiepero gentile. There is a giant mix that includes the indigenous, it is very extensive and makes us all very involved in it. There is a beautiful convergence in musicality. Today, we have a lot to offer,” said Luchi.

He explained that the party is summed up in three important points: spirituality, music and gastronomy. On December 21, 2021, the festive cycle around the veneration and worship of Saint John the Baptist in Venezuela was inscribed by UNESCO on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The traditions

The celebrations for San Juan begin with a drumbeat that lasts six hours, starting at noon on June 1. But the real party begins twenty-two days later, when all of Curiepe takes to the streets to listen to the Malembe.

People dress in red and white, representative colors of Saint John the Baptist, considered a martyr by Catholics. Some women adorn their hair with flowers and others tie scarlet scarves around their wrists.

«When June 23 arrives, the ringing begins at noon and once the drum starts, it does not stop until June 25, which is the last day of celebration. The image of San Juan is transferred at 3:00 pm from a family home, which from generation to generation has been in charge of presenting the image for the town procession. That santico is walked in procession, to the sound of the Malembe, to the House of Culture where an altar with offerings awaits him, “explained Daniel Luchi.

The image of San Juan is that of a small child. Before dark, on June 23, the thousands of participants in the celebration move to the House of Culture of Curiepe to wait until midnight and sing the venerated birthday.

“At that time, there is no room for a soul,” said Luchi. Later the figure is moved to a Christian temple.

On June 24, the mass begins around 9:00 or 10:00 am At 12:00 pm the drumming party resumes when the image leaves the church. It is celebrated until June 25, when the saint is returned to the church and what the curieperos call “the confinement of San Juan” occurs, which marks the end of the event.

“This 2022 we come with everything”

«In 2021 it was restricted by the pandemic, but this 2022 we come with everything in Curiepe. With the massive procession, “said Luchi.

He indicated that the state authorities organized together with the Civil Association Curiepe Somos Todos, to provide security to those attending the celebration.

“We have always had the support of the authorities: the National Guard, the municipal police, the firefighters, the health personnel. We are all prepared to deal with any eventuality. We hope that this year everything goes very well: we are quite organized. We take care of all the details », he pointed out.

Curiepe has existed since 1721 and on June 21 it was exactly 301 years since it was founded by the Spaniard Juan del Rosario Blanco. Another reason that its inhabitants take advantage of celebrating.

Saint John’s Day: when Miranda dresses up for a party – Cocuyo Effect