St. John’s Eve
The evening of June 23, St John’s Eve, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of St John the Baptist.
The Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:36, 56–57) states that John was born about six months before Jesus, therefore the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on June 24, six months before Christmas. This feast day is one of the very few saints’ days to mark the supposed anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint commemorated.
The Feast of St John coincides with the June solstice also referred to as Midsummer. The Christian holy day is fixed at June 24, but, in some countries, festivities are celebrated the night before, on St John’s Eve. The fest is celebrated in various countries.
Midsummer in Sweden
By Agneta Lilja, Södertörn University College Sweden.
Midsummer Day was originally celebrated on 24 June to commemorate John the Baptist. In 1953, it was moved to the nearest Saturday.
In agrarian times, Midsummer celebrations in Sweden were held to welcome summertime and the season of fertility. In some areas, therefore, people dressed up as ‘green men’, clad in ferns. They also decorated their houses and farm tools with foliage, and raised tall, leafy maypoles to dance around, probably as early as the 16th century and modelled on a German tradition. Midsummer was primarily an occasion for young people, but it was also celebrated in the industrial communities of central Sweden, where all mill employees were given a feast of pickled herring, beer and schnapps. It was not until the 20th century, however, that this became the most Swedish of all traditional festivities.
Ever since the 6th century AD, Midsummer bonfires have been lit around Europe. In Sweden, they were mainly found in the southern part of the country. Young people also liked to visit holy springs, where they drank the healing water and amused themselves with games and dancing. These visits were a reminder of how John the Baptist baptized Christ in the River Jordan.
Midsummer Night is the lightest of the year and was long considered a magical night, as it was the best time for telling people’s futures. Girls ate salted porridge (‘dream porridge’) so that their future husbands might bring water to them in their dreams, to quench their thirst. They also kept watch at springs for a reflection of their husband-to-be in the water.
On Midsummer Night, you could discover places where treasure was buried, for example by studying how moonbeams fell. When digging, you might be confronted by strange sights that would tempt you to laugh or speak, such as a lame hen pulling a large hay-load. If you managed to keep silent, you would find the treasure.
Also that night, it was said, water was turned into wine and ferns into flowers. Many plants acquired healing powers on that one night of the year.