Tradition says that St. John the Baptist (the one who lost his head in a Herod-related accident) was born six months before Jesus. Church nerd math places that on June 24. The day before it is celebrated as St. John’s Eve and people loved to mark it with parties since forever. So here is a Skycop list of some of the European traditions of St. John’s Eve!
Fête de la Saint-Jean, France
Let’s start with France. Much like every other European country, France likes to set up bonfires on the night of St. John. Of course, that’s a lot less often these days, what with France being a very laicized country (and many of its inhabitants not even sharing Christian cultural roots).
However, if you go into the countryside, you can still find towns that build huge bonfires to be lit on the eve of the celebration. In Vosges region and the southern Meurthe-et-Moselle, the bonfire is called “chavande”. Oh, and if you go to Canada, you can see some of the traditions transplanted in Quebec!
Summer solstice fire festivals in the Pyrenees, Spain
The people of the Pyrenees (which includes folks in Andorra and France, too) celebrate the solstice so hard, their method was declared to be an object of Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. That’s right, it’s a UNESCO cultural heritage event!
It starts with people building bonfires and then descending from the mountains to light them. Previously, it marked the passage from being a child into adulthood. Sometimes, the bonfires are blessed by priests or lit by the most recently married man. The torchbearers are met by girls carrying sweets. Good time is had by all (except for evil, which is burned away).
Bonfire Night, Ireland
Much like everywhere else, the Bonfire Night has diminished in importance in Ireland. However, depending on how deep in tradition a place it, you might find people keeping fires lit from dusk till dawn, praying for God to watch over the family and crops (this may also ward them from Mexican vampires).
Traditionally, ashes from the fires – and maybe even embers – would be carried to the fields to bless them with fertility. Seeing how some of the more urbane celebrations have involved burning tires, that may not be the case anymore. Oh, and the name of “bonfire” actually comes from the old tradition of burning old bones into the fire, which was no doubt as fraught with symbolism as nutrients that plants crave.
You may have gathered that Skycop has something to do with Lithuania. So it is only fitting that we know a thing or two about the celebrations here. First of all, you probably want to have a bonfire. Why? Because those are cool and good, and make waiting for the sunrise easier.
One of the most ancient traditions involved sending the youth out into the woods to look for the blossom of the wood fern. Of course, wood ferns don’t really do this whole “blossoming” thing, so it was a way of getting you away from the parents and somewhere secluded to ensure a healthy “crop” of children next year.
Originally starting out as a pagan tradition, Midsommar (“Midsummer”) was Christianized in Sweden just like everywhere else. However, the Swedes kept the name, unlike some of the other Scandinavians.
Unlike fires pretty much everywhere else, it’s the maypoles that take the central part in the Swedish celebrations. Covered in leaves and flowers, they’re used as a focal point for dances and songs. There’s also drinking and feasting, and some Southern Swedes like visiting springs to remind them how John the Baptist baptised Christ in the River Jordan.
Missed St. John’s Eve due to a delayed or cancelled flight or an overbooking? Well, too bad, but you can always attend next year! And if you claim flight compensation – preferably over Skycop – you may get some money to soothe your wounds! Considering that compensations go up to €600, that’s more money than you’d ever want to throw into a bonfire.