The Fête de la Saint-Jean (St. John’s Eve)

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The Fête de la Saint-Jean (St. John’s Eve) is celebrated in France at sunset on June 23rd. St. John’s Day is actually on June 24th and it celebrates the birth of St. John the Baptist (6 months before Jesus’s birth).

The festival has its roots in the ancient celebration of the summer solstice. The pagans would light bonfires on the eve of the solstice. Originally, they were lit to “help” the sun whose course would shorten until the winter solstice. During the Middle Ages, people thought the bonfires would keep sorcerers from passing by on that night.

The holiday is still held in many villages in France. It’s in part a celebration of the young ladies and men. On the 23rd, they go around collecting branches for a bonfire to be lit at night.  Sometimes when the fire starts to die down and is very low, young people jump over it to show their virility. (Don’t try this at home!) There’s often a nice meal involved in the festivities. Sometimes fireworks are lit and there’s singing and dancing.

On St. John’s Day, French people pick St. John’s Wort. It’s put in a bottle with oil (usually olive) to make “red oil” which is used to relieve rheumatism. (It is photosensitizing and can have other adverse side effects especially with different medicines. So don’t use it without reading up on it and asking the advice of your physician.)

The holiday was brought to the province of Quebec in Canada by French colonists and was celebrated back in the early 1600’s. There it has three names, la Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste (St. John the Baptist’s Day), la Saint-Jean (the St. John), and Fête nationale du Québec (National Holiday of Quebec). As the latter name suggests, it is now a national holiday in the Province.

The celebration starts in Quebec the night of June 23rd with Bonfires. There’s dancing and singing of folk songs. On the 24th, there are parades in the morning and then a mass for St. John the Baptist’s Day. Later on there are concerts and fireworks.

Thanks to Monique Palomares for help with the details of the holiday. Monique works with me on the French and Spanish versions of Mama Lisa’s World.

Image: Feu de la Saint-Jean by PA, CC 4.0.

This article was posted on Thursday, April 29th, 2021 at 6:36 pm and is filed under Canada, Countries & Cultures, Fête de la Saint-Jean (St. John's Eve), France, Holidays Around the World, Mama Lisa, Seasonal, Summer, Summer Solstice. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

One Response to “The Fête de la Saint-Jean (St. John’s Eve)”

  1. Marcy Berry Says:

    Came across this post about St. John’s Eve as I was Googling for French songs to sing with my grandchildren. Immediately, a flood of memories of Festa Junina in my own country of Brazil! Festa Junina or Festa de Sao Joao is a nation-wide celebration of the birth of St. John the Baptist, as the case is in France. Since this festival arose in the rural north of Brazil, tradition calls for festivities featuring rural costumes, food and drinks. Bonfires, as in France, are also part of the commemoration. Additionally, there were the “baloes de fogo” that parents helped their children make. These were paper lanterns propelled by fire, which apparently are now discouraged. Today, some of the old traditions of the Festa Junina are being replaced by more public and commercial events, but the commemoration is still well loved by the Brazilian people.

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