Today, St. John’s Day, is Midsummer’s Eve
Today is June 24. It is the day of the Feast of St. John the Baptist, or St.
John's Day, celebrating the Baptist's birth, which was traditionally thought to have been six months before the birth of Christ. Before I say more about St. John's Day, let me tell you some other things that today is supposed to commemorate.
Celebration of the Senses Day. International Fairy Day (this one ties into St. John's Day, as I will explain below).
International Rose' (Wine) Day. Museum Comes to Life Day. National Eat at a Food Truck Day.
National Food Truck Day (evidently different from the other one). National Pralines Day. Swim a Lap Day.
Finally, Take Your Dog to Work Day (better ask the boss about that one). Thus, it appears if you are not inclined to be traditional in your holiday observances, if traditional European holidays from the Church calendar are not your thing, you can nonetheless find something to celebrate today. As for me, I'd rather be historical than celebrate food trucks or pralines, not that I've anything against food trucks or pralines, or even rose' wine.
But St. John's Day was a big deal in years past because it comes right at Summer Solstice. St.
Johns' Day was thought to be Midsummer's Eve. Remember Shakespeare's play, "A Midsummer's Night's Dream"? The night of St.
John's Day, or Midsummer's Eve, was traditionally something like All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween. Traditionally, it was thought to be a night when spirits and fairies ran amok, so that people needed to take precautions. These superstitions were largely relics of a pagan past.
Precautions could take various forms. If you left a saucer of milk for the fairies, they wouldn't hex your livestock or crops. If the next morning, the milk was gone, it meant the fairies had accepted your bribe. (Doubtless, stray dogs or cats, field mice and so on, made finding out the next morning that your offering had worked pretty much a foregone conclusion.)
For more serious threats, such as witches, dragons and evil spirits in general, more robust precautions were needed. In many parts of Europe, bonfires were lit. Evidently witches and dragons didn't like bonfires.
But people who would gather round the fires, drink wine or ale, and celebrate the summer weather liked them very much. Of course, in such weather, some celebrants were tempted to leave the fire to pursue romance in more unlit surroundings. Shakespeare's play, in which a troupe of actors is out on Midsummer's Eve and attracts the attention of the fairies, including a feuding King Oberon and Queen Tatiana, showed the risk of leaving the firelight.
The fairies were apt to play a prank on you, if a witch didn't get you first.
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Today, St. John's Day, also called St. Jean-Baptiste, is still celebrated as a religious feast day in countries like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Bonfires are still lit in these countries. I don't know if they have any problems with witches or dragons. They seem more worried about Russians at the present time.
These days, we are more apt to associate Midsummer's Eve with the time of the longest hours of daylight and some of the year's warmest weather. Our departure from both the Christian and pagan traditions has left a gap that we fill with observances of food trucks and pralines. Only the International Fairies Day I listed smacks of the day's history.
I think it's a pity that we don't emphasize history more, and that even when emphasized, history is so frequently distorted these days. For example, contrary to the assertions of some people, my ancestors were not in a lather to leave Northern Ireland for this continent so they could buy slaves they didn't want and couldn't afford. They were more likely to have been slaves (indentured servants) themselves.
But I digress. History is full of surprising facts, interesting stories, and descriptions of events that range from the amusing and delightful to the appalling and distasteful. It contains food for serious thought as well as "fun facts." We will soon celebrate Independence Day, a time for serious reflection as well as fireworks.
Today, it is interesting to reflect on the old celebrations of Midsummer's Eve, about how the Church managed to turn a traditional pagan holiday into a Christian celebration, and about how the old pagan observances persisted.
But I'm not going to leave milk for the fairies tonight.
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