Today In Church History: June 23

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St John’s Eve

The feast of John the Baptist takes place on June 24, a date so close to mid-summer that many popular pre-Christian customs are associated with it and, as is usual, the eve of the saint’s day is when celebrations take place.

At the summer solstice, the days are longest and the nights shortest. From then until December 21, daylight wanes. It is natural, therefore, that fertility, light and heat are the focus of the paganesque carryings-on. In Sweden it remains a major occasion for gaiety and hospitality with the erection of festive poles, decorated with flowers, dancing and late-night drinking. The Polish festival is called “sobótki” and traditionally involves a kind of courtship ritual of young men, and women who wear flower crowns.

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Bonfires are the order of the day everywhere. In Quebec the day was celebrated in 1636 by cannon shots and a fire; in Turin they dance around a bonfire in the public square; in Denmark an effigy of a witch is burnt.