24 June 2012

24 June - Nativity of John the Baptist

Weather:  If it rains on St. John's Day, nuts will go bad and wicked women will thrive; however, apples, pears and plums will not be hurt.

Midsummer rain spoils hay and grain.

If it rains on St. John's Day, we may expect a wet harvest.

If it rains on St. John’s Day, it will rain another four weeks.


Gardening: The best hay is made before midsummer

St. John’s Day is considered a good time for sowing, and when the sun shines on his day, nuts will be abundant during the coming year [this being an election year, an abundance of nuts is a sure bet.]

If you lop a tree on St. John’s Day it will wither.

Cut your thistles before St. John, 
you will have two instead of one 
[so leave those thistles standing another day]

Up to St. John’s day, wine is fit only for peasants 
[in other words, the wine of last year’s vintage is not good until after Midsummer.  Fine.  Along with the thistles, leave last year’s vintage alone for another day.  Or be a peasant with me.]


Blessed be the Lord God of Israel;

Because he hath visited and wrought the redemption of his people:
And hath raised up an horn of salvation to us, in the house of David his servant:
As he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets, who are from the beginning:
Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us:
To perform mercy to our fathers, and to remember his holy testament,
The oath, which he sware to Abraham our father, that he would grant to us,
That being delivered from the hand of our enemies, we may serve him without fear,
In holiness and justice before him, all our days.

And thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Highest:
For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways:
To give knowledge of salvation to his people, unto the remission of their sins:
Through the bowels of the mercy of our God, in which the Orient from on high hath visited us
To enlighten them that sit in darkness, and in the shadow of death:
To direct our feet into the way of peace.

The Canticle of Zachary    Luke 1:68-79

The woodcut above is from a 1489 Dutch edition of The Golden Legend.  In it we see St. Elizabeth looking peaceful after her ordeal; an attendant smiling; the Virgin (also smiling) holding St. John; another attendant, steadying the baby's head [Our Lady was a virgin, after all; she might not have known how to hold babies]; and St. Zachary writing “His name is John”, for the benefit of those who wanted to name the boy after him.

That Mary stayed for the birth of John is not specifically mentioned in the Bible [so from whom did Luke get the story?], but the author of the early 14th century work, “The Life of Christ” (attributed to St. Bonaventure) stated that:  “When Elisabeth’s full time was come, she was happily delivered of a son, which our Lady received in her arms, and swaddled with becoming care.  The infant, as if conscious of the majesty of its nurse, fixed his eyes steadfastly upon her, so taken with her beauty, that when she delivered him again to his mother, he still looked towards her, as if he could take delight in none but her, while she delighted in playing with him and embraced and sweetly kissed him.”  Another legend of the Virgin says that she prolonged her visit, received the child in her arms, and presented him to Zachary.  These and several other meditations influenced the iconography of this scene.


St. John is one of three whose birthday is celebrated by the Church – the other two being Our Lord and the Virgin Mary.  As such, the festivities were large and varied, with pomp and ceremony, with dancing, feasting, and (of course) bonfires.

Naturally, that good Protestant Naogeorgus couldn’t let the day pass without bemoaning those silly Papist customs:

"Then doth the joyful feast of John the Baptist take his turn,
When bonfires great, with lofty flame, in every town do burn,
And young men round about with maids do dance in every street,
With garlands wrought of Motherwort, or else with Vervain sweet,
And many other flowers fair, with Violets in their hands,
Whereas they all do fondly think, that whosoever stands,
And through the flowers beholds the flame, his eyes shall feel no pain.
When thus ‘til night they danced have, they through the fire a-main,
With striving minds, do run, and all their herbs they cast therein,
And then with words devout and prayers they solemnly begin,
Desiring God that all their ills may there consumed be;
Whereby they think through all that year from agues to be free.
Some others get a rotten wheel, all worn and cast aside,
Which covered round about with straw and tow, they closely hide;
And carried to some mountain’s top, being all with fire light,
They hurl it down with violence, when dark appears the night,
Resembling much the sun, that from the Heavens down should fall,
A strange and monstrous sight it seems, and fearful to them all,
But they suppose their mischiefs all are likewise thrown to hell,
And that from harms and dangers now, in safety here they dwell.”

The heck with him!  Wear yellow today (the color of the sun), renew your baptismal vows, build a (fully protected) bonfire, dance, and feast your friends. 

And give thanks to God for his continuing mercies.

For a fuller explanation, please see The Catholic Encyclopedia: St. John the BaptistCatholic Culture: June 24 has more information and several activities and recipes for celebrating this feast.   Fisheaters beautifully ties together the story of John and the customs surrounding his day, including a blessing for St. John's Bonfire.