St. John’s Eve

Johannisfeuer. Bonfires lit on St. John's Eve (aka Midsummer's Eve). “Your figure looks so splendid, silhouetted against the fire.”June 23rd is known as St. John’s Eve, unfortunately due to a bad storm this post is a little delayed. None the less around Europe there were bonfires that were held among other midsummer celebrations. Not commonly celebrated in the U.S., I found that there are different ways in Europe this day is celebrated.

  • England: In Yorkshire, it is common for every family who is part of a parish to set up a table with bread, cheese, and beer and offer it up to someone who passes by. Any members of the parish may help themselves to and some are invited indoors for festivities.
  • Estonia: Fishing ships are set ablaze in on the islands of Saaremaa and Hiiumaa. Called Jaaniõhtu, there are bonfires that are lit on St. John’s eve. For this event there are larger events with singing and dancing as the Estonians have done for years.
  • France: A reminiscence of a pagan festival that has been combined with the Catholic faith to honor Saint John the Baptist, the French build tall bonfires for them to be lit.
  • Canada: Mainly, celebrated in Quebec fires are lit.
  • Hungary: The Hungarians celebrate St. Ivan’s Night, there are fires that are lit, girls jump over them while boys watch. Obviously, the fires are not as high as the other bonfires that are lit across the world.
  • Italy: With Saint John the Baptist being the patron saint of: Florence, Genoa, and Turin, Italy has deep roots with this holiday. There are fireworks that are set off in a celebration over these cities. Some celebrations happen in Cenena from June 21st-June 24th in honor of this holiday.
  • Mexico: Singing, dancing, and swimming are among the festivities that happen on St. John’s Eve. Traditionally, great hampers of chicken tamales are carried in hampers to swimming parties.
  • Poland: Called ‘sobótki’ there are festivities that involve young men and women singing. Women wear a floral crown of wild flowers that are thrown into a nearby lake or pond. The men are the ones who go into get the discarded crown. Bonfires, and bonfire jumping are common festivities as well.
  • Portugal: Heralded as one of the best parties of the world, the Portuguese take pride in street parties that happen on June 23rd and carry over to June 24th.
  • Midsummer SwedenSweden: Originally, a fertility festival there is a wooden pole that is eight meters high decorated in flowers, symbolizing fertility and new life. There are songs and dancing that are sung around the pole, usually with a sexual undertone.
  • Puerto Rico: On this tiny island people travel to local beaches, rivers, lakes, and ponds where they fall backwards three to twelve times in order to cleanse the body of bad luck.
  • Scandinavia:  Sankt Hans or Jonsok, short for Saint Johannes or Saint John’s Wake is what they call this night. They have bonfires where there is a witch burning, a doll dressed up in ugly clothing that is thrown into the fire toLat represent the witch.
  • Spain: Bonfires and fireworks are set off, with special foods to go with
  • the celebrations.
  • United States: Only in Louisiana are there known celebrations of St. John’s Eve in New Orleans, many people keep the traditions alive, bonfires, etc.
  • Brazil: Called Festa Junina, there are celebrations happen under tents, there are colorful costumes and traditional dances.
  • Lithuania: The celebrations there are a little more livelier than the other European countries, with singing, dancing, and telling tales until the sun sets. The festivities continue onto midnight with boys jumping over fires and searching for the magic fern blossom at midnight. Known as St. Jonas Festival, the Lithuanians greet the midsummer rising sun with washing their face with dew and young girls float flower wreaths on the water.
  • Latvia: Known as Jani, men and women both wear wreaths on their heads, women with flowers, while men have oak leaves. Līgo songs are associated with fertility and disaster prevention.

There are many traditions that are celebrated in honor of this day across Europe. Although, not commonly celebrated here in the U.S., except for New Orleans, Louisiana, I found many of the traditions interesting. Who knows, maybe one day I will be in a country where they are celebrating St. John’s Eve!


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