Saturday, June 22, 2013

St. John's/Midsummer Day

St. John's or Midsummer Day, which occurs this weekend, is to a large extent the warm weather counterpart of Christmas. Everybody knows about Christmas, the Christian feast that celebrates Christ's birth and falls very close to the winter equinox. In modern times, it has become mainly a feast of shopping.

St. John's Day, also known as Midsummer Day some places, is less well-known. It is a major holiday in several Nordic countries (Finalnd, Sweden and Norway) as well as in Lithuania. As with Christmas, it is a Christian feast, the birthday of St. John  the Baptist, that falls very near an equinox. It signals the start of summer.

I remember being in Helsinki a few years ago on St. John's Day, and marvelling at the evergreen boughs that draped all the light poles downtown. In Scandinavia, the day is often marked by heavy drinking and cavorting outdoors, but it is also a religious celebration. For Finns, Midsummer Day is one of 14 official public holidays. and Finns also get 30 days of vacation after they have worked for a year.

In Lithuania, the day is known as Jonines and marks the beginning of the haying season. It is the successor to an earlier pagan feast day marked by rituals to protect the harvest and other fertility rites. The Baltic countries came to Christianity quite late, For more information on the holiday in Lithuania, consult the Website

If you can't make it to Northern Europe to mark midsummer, consider the province of Quebec. Here St. Jean Baptiste Day is known as the Fete Nationale, and st celebrated across the province. Even my small, mainly English-speaking suburb of Westmount has activities planned. The main celebration occurs in the eastern part of downtown Montreal at Parc Maisonneuve near the Olympic Stadium, with many Quebec vedettes appearing in a large, free event on the night of June 24th.

St, Jean Baptiste is the patron saint of Quebec. Many of the early settlers of Quebec came from the French province of Normandy, which was originally settled by Vikings. I wonder whether there is any connection between these facts and the modern reality that Quebec and several countries in Scandinavia are the main places where this festival is celebrated today.

In any case, however you celebrate it, have a happy St. John`s or Midsummer Day.


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