St John´s Night

St John´s Night

The feast day of Saint John the Baptist was a very popular event in the ancien régime of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

The tradition landed in Canada with the first French colonists. According to the Jesuit Relations, the first celebrations occurred on the banks of the Saint Lawrence River on the evening of June 23, 1636 with a bonfire and five cannon shots.

Historically, this date has been venerated in the practice of Voodoo. The famous Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau was said to have held ceremonies involving Voodoo ritual on the Bayou St John in New Orleans, commemorating St John’s Eve. Modern day practitioners of Voodoo have kept the tradition alive.

Similar festivities take place in Scandinavia. Bonfires are lit and effigees burned on the evening of June 23. People jump over the bonfires to prove their courage. Traditionally, three jumps cleanses one from sin and disease. One of the centers of the festival is in Ciutadella; but many different cities and towns have their own unique traditions associated with the festival. In recent years, public celebrations have begun cordoning off the fires for safety reasons.

Brazil has the largest St John’s festivities in the globe, (“Festas Juninas”) with parties all over the country. The Northeastern region of Brazil concentrates the most elaborated parties, more specifically in the cities of Caruaru-Pernambuco, Campina Grande-Paraiba, Salvador-Bahia and in smaller cities like Cruz das Almas, Ibicui, Jequie and Ilheus also in Bahia.

In the evening on June 23, Catholics all over Brazil light a big fire, symbolizing a Catholic tale: During a conversation, John’s mother, Elizabeth, agreed to light a big fire to notify her cousin Mary (mother of Jesus) that she had given birth, that she might get post-partum assistance from her cousin.

In Catalonia, Valencian Comunity and Galicians, ancient pre-Christian traditions related to fire festivities are still among the most popular. Bonfires are lit in the streets or on the sand of the beaches, the rituals are jumping over the fire, touch the water that is blessed in the night or asking for some wishes, and there are fireworks too, . Special meals are also served on this occasion.

On the island of Puerto Rico, originally named San Juan Batista, after the saint, by Christopher Columbus, a weekend-long celebration is held. There are parades, food, and many parties. After sunset, people travel to a beach or any accessible body of water (e.g. river, lake or even bathtub) and, at midnight, fall backwards into it seven times. This is done to cleanse the body from sin and give good luck for the following year.

Many, however, simply go to the beach to immerse themselves, in the same manner as the Irish. This feast, occurring at the start of summer in a tropical climate, it would also seem to be an activity which brought relief to the early colonists from the oppressive heat, in addition to its spiritual significance.

In Poland the festival is known as ‘sobótki’. Traditional folk rituals include groups of young men and women singing ritual songs to each other. The young women may wear crowns fashioned from wild flowers, which are later thrown into a nearby pond or lake. The boys/young men may then swim out to claim one of the crowns. Bonfires (and bonfire jumping) are also part of the proceedings…

Source: Wikipedia St John´s Eve

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