To my regular readers: I’m sorry! I am alive, just slow. Here’s today’s very late post.
June 24 is known as St. John’s Day, since Luke 1:36 lets us know that John the Baptist was about six months older than Jesus, and many people celebrate Jesus birthday on December 25. Many cultures have quite a celebration starting the day before, on St. John’s Eve, especially in Eastern Europe.
Since the date is so close to the summer solstice, many of the traditions seem to have worked their way into Christianity from much earlier pagan midsummer celebrations. The common denominator in most of these celebrations is a great bonfire. Other traditions include gathering herbs and flowers (including, in some areas, the illusive and magical fern blossom), singing, dancing, and practical jokes. In fact, some cultures often spend some of the next day in water fights and other pranks involving water, in what is probably a nod to the “baptist” part of St. John the Baptist.
“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’ This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.’”
Fun fact: The song “Night on Bald Mountain” by Modest Mussorgsky was originally titled “St. John’s Night on the Bare Mountain.” It was probably inspired by the short story “St. John’s Eve” by Nikolai Gogol, about a man who found the magical fern flower, but was cursed by it.