It is the 23rd of June 2020. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
A very Happy St. John's Eve. While we have listeners across the world and on five continents, the most downloads for this show come from the United States. And if you aren't a follower of Cajun voodoo traditions, you might not know much about one of the most popular holidays across time and space.
The celebrations come from the dating of the birth of John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of Luke, this was six months before the birth of Jesus. Thus the Nativity of John is on the 24th of June, but the celebration takes place the previous night.
Due to the connections with the Nativity of Christ, St John's Eve has been called in some places, "Summer Christmas." It is one more example of a day that was charged with pagan references and obvious Christian traditions. Being close to the summer solstice, we might expect this.
The church taught that on this day of the year, when the sunlight begins to decrease, it represents him who said, "He must increase, and I must decrease." Thus this corresponds to the winter solstice around the birth of Christ when the days begin to increase in length.
The holiday goes by many different names, most associated with John the Baptist or bonfires. The idea of a bonfire as associated with John is a reminder that he is the light that points the way to the true light. Perhaps the most visible aspect of this holiday is the traditional bonfire. It was on St. John's Eve that massive bonfires would be set. This is still the case today. The etymology "bonfire" comes from the old English for "bone fire" as bones were tossed into the fire to signify a refining fire but also the warding off of demons. The bonfire was also said to draw God's attention and to ask his blessing for the summer crops.
Like many holidays, the pagan and Christian elements are intertwined, and in some places, hint at the other. For instance, Puerto Rico was first called "San Juan Bautista" after John the Baptist by Christopher Columbus. There has been a long-held pagan tradition that on this night, everyone is to find the nearest body of water and fall backwards into it three or seven times. This ceremonial washing is to ward off bad luck, although it sure looks like another kind of ceremonial washing associated with John the Baptist.
In England, it is a quarter day, one of the days that mark the collection of rents and the settling of other quarterly activities. It was also a night for a kind of outreach, as people would set up tables outside churches and fill them with bread and cheese and beer for anyone in the community that might want it. This and other revelries were seen by many as an opportunity to draw outsiders into the church through an act of charity.
In Louisiana, the voodoo priestess Marie Laveau held an annual festival for symbolic washing and revelry near the summer solstice. This was held on the bayou of St. John. In the 19th century, Laveau began to invite white settlers to her event. This has been seen by many as a watershed for Louisiana culture and the creation of a hybrid Creole/French/English culture.
A popular day for Baptisms, it was a day when the early church acted out baptisms on behalf of those children who died before baptism. It is, like any day, a good day to remember your baptism. This on the eve of the man we call the Baptist, St. John's Eve.
The reading for today is a poem "Baptism" by George Herbert.
As he that sees a dark and shady grove,
Stays not, but looks beyond it on the sky;
So when I view my sins, mine eyes remove
More backward still, and to that water fly,
Which is above the heav'ns, whose spring and rest
Is in my dear Redeemer's pierced side.
O blessed streams! either ye do prevent
And stop our sins from growing thick and wide,
Or else give tears to drown them, as they grow.
In you Redemption measures all my time,
And spreads the plaster equal to the crime;
You taught the book of life my name, that so
What ever future sins should me miscall,
Your first acquaintance might discredit all.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of June 2020 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who loves the Voodoo that You-Do, Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis. You can catch us here every day. and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.