St. Swithin was a beloved ninth-century bishop of Winchester, England, who requested that he be buried in the churchyard–some say to be close to the common people, whom he loved; some say so that he could enjoy God’s gift of rain for all eternity. When he died in 862, his request was honored.
About 100 years later, however, it was deemed unseemly that so holy a man should rest in a common grave. On July 15, the saint’s feast day, the people attempted to enshrine his remains in his church.
Legend has it, however, that St. Swithin caused torrential rains to fall for 40 days, until the intended transfer was abandoned. This is the source of a very old Scottish weather proverb regarding rain on July 15:
“St. Swithin’s Day if thou dost rain,
For forty days it will remain.”
Vidovdan (St. Vitus Day) is one of the important religious holidays for the Serbs. It’s annually observed on 28 June (Gregorian Calendar), or 15 June according to the Julian calendar, in use by the Serbian Orthodox Church to venerate St. Vitus. It is an important part of Serb ethnic and Serbian national identity.
Observation of this feast is connected with the Battle of Kosovo in 1389. According to the Serbian Orthodox tradition, the Serbian national identity was founded on the day, when the Ottoman Empire defeated Serbia in the Battle of Kosovo and slew prince Lazar. Ruling sultan of the Ottoman Empire was killed on the same day by Serbian knight Miloš Obilić.
Serbs consider Vidovdan a very important day, that is why many historic events in Serbia took place on June 28, for instance, signing of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), proclamation of Serbian constitution (1921), Slobodan Milošević’s deportation to the International Criminal Tribunal, etc.
In the late Middle Ages, people in Germany and countries such as Latvia celebrated the feast of Vitus by dancing before his statue. This dancing became popular and the name “Saint Vitus Dance” was given to the neurological disorder Sydenham’s chorea. It also led to Vitus being considered the patron saint of dancers and of entertainers in general.
It is also a day for weather watching:
“If St. Vitus’ Day be rainy weather,
It will rain for 30 days together.”
About St Vitus:
There are no reliable facts about existence of Saint Vitus. According to Christian legend, Vitus was the son of Roman senator from Sicily. He converted to Christianity under influence of his mentor. Satin Vitus died as a martyr during the persecution of Christians by Roman Emperors Diocletian and Maximian.
Vitus is considered the patron saint of actors, comedians, dancers, and epileptics, similarly to Genesius of Rome. He is also said to protect against lightning strikes, animal attacks and oversleeping.
The Fête de la Saint-Jean-Baptiste, held annually on June 24, is the feast day of St John the Baptist, a Jewish preacher who according to the Christian tradition, baptized Jesus in the River Jordan. It is a day of celebration in Quebec and other areas of French Canada. The feast day of Saint John the Baptist or Midsummer was a very popular event in the Ancien Régime of France, and it is still celebrated as a religious feast day in several countries, like Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Spain, Latvia and Lithuania.
Other names for this holiday include the following:
- Saint Jean Baptiste Day
- La Saint-Jean
- St John the Baptist Day
- Fête nationale du Québec
- Quebec’s National Holiday
This is a historical, cultural, national and religious holiday. It is observed by Quebecers, French Canadians, French Americans. Celebrations include parades, bonfires, fireworks, feasting, drinking, musical concerts, flag waving, patriotic speeches, and contests.
The flag of Quebec and the fleurs-de-lis are widespread symbols of Saint Jean Baptiste Day. Many people choose to wear blue or white clothing to the celebrations. The fleurs-de-lis represents the flower of an iris or a lily. The fleurs-de-lis is also associated with the Virgin Mary and her purity. It was a symbol of French speaking people and their kings after King Clovis I converted to Christianity in the year 493. It was taken from the papal seal or coat-of-arms when the king converted, to symbolize the strength and significance of the French nation in its union with the Papal state. Quebec’s flag is one-and-a half times as wide as it is high and has a blue background. The background is divided into four rectangles by a cross and each of the four rectangles contains a single white fleurs-de-lis.
What Do People Do?
Various events are organized on Saint Jean Baptiste Day. These range from large scale public celebrations, such as rock and jazz concerts, sports tournaments, parades and firework displays, to small family or neighborhood happenings, such as yard sales, picnics, barbecues, bonfires and children’s entertainment. Many church bells ring in celebration and public dances and fun fairs are held. Some events may be held on the evening of June 23 and many are broadcast live on television, radio or on the Internet. The celebrations are coordinated by the Mouvement national des Québécoises et des Québécois.
Saint Jean Baptiste Day is a public holiday in the Canadian province of Quebec. Post offices and many stores are closed. Public transport services run to a reduced schedule in some places or may not run at all in other areas, such as the province’s rural regions. If June 24 falls on a Sunday, the same day is a paid day off for those who work on Sunday. June 25 becomes a paid day off for workers who do not ordinarily work on Sunday.
In ancient times, the summer solstice was honored around June 21. Midsummer festivals, such as those linked with the June solstice, were held in Europe for thousands of years. In the fifth century, Christianity spread through France. When people converted to Christianity, elements of these festivals were combined with feast days for Christian saints. June 24 – the feast day of St John was substituted for the pagan Midsummer celebrations. Traditionally, bonfires would be lit on the eve of June 24 in order to honor the saint.
In France, the celebrations around the feast day of Saint John the Baptist were widely enjoyed and French colonists introduced these traditions to North America.
The patriotic tone of the Saint Jean Baptiste Day celebrations began in 1834. In that year Ludger Duvernay, an influential journalist, visited the St Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montreal, and was inspired to create a similar event for French Canadians. In 1843, he established the Saint Jean Baptiste Society to promote the celebration of Saint Jean Baptiste Day. This organization was supported by the Catholic Church, which saw it as a way to promote social and moral progress. In 1908 St John the Baptist was designated as the patron Saint of Quebec, re-enforcing the connection between Saint Jean Baptiste Day and French-Canadian patriotism.
The celebrations were supported by the Catholic Church and were primarily religious around that time. The lighting of bonfires, a traditional custom on the Nativity of Saint John which ultimately reached back to pre-Christian Midsummer celebrations were still lit at night. In addition, the first Saint-Jean-Baptiste parades were organized. They became an important tradition over time. The procession of allegorical floats was introduced in 1874.
During and after World War I, Saint Jean Baptiste Day was barely celebrated, but in 1925 Saint Jean Baptiste Day became a provincial holiday in Quebec. After a period in the 1960s, when the structure of society in Quebec changed greatly, this holiday became very political. During the Quiet Revolution, the event took a political turn, with many riots and protests taking place.
However, in 1977 Saint Jean Baptiste Day was recognized as the ‘national’ holiday of Quebec and the mood of the celebrations gradually moved towards that of the secular celebrations in modern times.
By making it a statutory holiday, the day became a holiday for all Quebecers rather than only those of French-Canadian or Catholic origins. Celebrations were gradually secularized. While the religious significance of the civic celebration is gone, the day remains popularly called la St-Jean-Baptiste or simply la St-Jean and is still observed in churches.
Collected from various sources
Saint George’s Day is celebrated on April 23, the traditionally accepted date of the saint’s death in AD 303. For those Eastern Orthodox Churches which use the Julian calendar, this date currently falls on the day of 6 May of the Gregorian calendar. In Turkish culture the day is known as Hıdırellez or Xıdır Nəbi and is symbolic of spring renewal.
It is also believed to be a magical day when all evil spells can be broken. It was believed that the saint helps the crops to grow and blesses the morning dew, so early in the morning they walked in the pastures and meadows and collected dew, washed their face, hands and feet in it for good luck and even in some rural parts of Bulgaria it was a custom to roll in it naked.
Many Christian denominations in Syria celebrate St George’s Day, especially in the Homs Governorate. They do this by dressing small children as dragons and chasing them through the streets whilst beating them with clubs and batons. It is a very special time of year, after the beatings folks will enjoy a sit down dinner and dancing.
Saint George’s Day is the feast day of Saint George as celebrated by various Christian Churches and by the several nations, kingdoms, countries, and cities of which Saint George is the patron saint.
Since Easter often falls close to Saint George’s Day, the church celebration of the feast may be moved to accommodate the Easter Festivities. Similarly, the Eastern Orthodox celebration of the feast moves accordingly to the first Monday after Easter or, as it is sometimes called, to the Monday of Bright Week.
Some Orthodox Churches have additional feasts dedicated to St George. The country of Georgia celebrates the feast of St. George on April 23, and, more prominently, November 10 (Julian calendar), which currently fall on May 6 and November 23 (Gregorian calendar), respectively.
St George’s Day was a major feast and national holiday in England on a par with Christmas from the early 15th century. The Cross of St. George was flown in 1497 by John Cabot on his voyage to discover Newfoundland and later by Sir Francis Drake and Sir Walter Raleigh. In 1620 it was the flag that was flown on the foremast of the Mayflower when the Pilgrim Fathers arrived in Plymouth, Massachusetts.
The tradition of celebration St George’s day had waned by the end of the 18th century after the union of England and Scotland. Nevertheless, the link with St. George continues today, for example Salisbury holds an annual St. George’s Day pageant, the origins of which are believed to go back to the 13th century. In recent years the popularity of St. George’s Day appears to be increasing gradually. Today, St. George’s day may be celebrated with anything English including morris dancing and Punch and Judy shows.
A traditional custom on St George’s day is to wear a red rose in one’s lapel, though this is no longer widely practiced. Another custom is to fly or adorn the St George’s Cross flag in some way: pubs in particular can be seen on April 23 festooned with garlands of St George’s crosses. It is customary for the hymn “Jerusalem” to be sung in cathedrals, churches and chapels on St George’s Day, or on the Sunday closest to it. Traditional English food and drink may be consumed.
In the Valencian city of Alcoi, Saint George’s Day is commemorated as a thanksgiving celebration for the proclaimed aid the Saint provided to the Christian troops fighting the Muslims in the siege of the city. Its citizens commemorate the day with a festivity in which thousands of people parade in medieval costumes, forming two “armies” of Moors and Christians and re-enacting the siege that gave the city to the Christians.
The Serbian St George’s Day is called Đurđevdan and is celebrated on 6 May every year, as the Serbian Orthodox Church uses the Julian, Old Style calendar. Đurđevdan is also celebrated by both Orthodox and Muslim Romani and Muslim Gorani. Đurđevdan is celebrated, especially, in the areas of Raška in Serbia, and is marked by morning picnics, music, and folk dances.
In Russia, St George’s Day (Гергьовден, Gergyovden) is a public holiday that takes place on 6 May each year. It is possibly the most celebrated name day in the country. A common ritual is to prepare and eat a whole lamb, which is an ancient practice possibly related to Slavic pagan sacrificial traditions and the fact that St George is the patron saint of shepherds.
March 17 commemorates Saint Patrick, the patron saint and national apostle of Ireland, and the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. In addition, this day also celebrates the heritage and culture of the Irish in general.
Celebrations generally involve public parades and festivals, céilithe (Irish traditional music sessions), and the wearing of green attire or shamrocks. There are also formal gatherings such as banquets and dances, although these were more common in the past. St Patrick’s Day parades began in North America in the 18th century but did not spread to Ireland until the 20th century.
The participants generally include marching bands, the military, fire brigades, cultural organisations, charitable organisations, voluntary associations, youth groups, fraternities, and so on. However, over time, many of the parades have become more akin to a carnival. More effort is made to use the Irish language; especially in Ireland, where the week of St Patrick’s Day is “Irish language week”. Recently, famous landmarks have been lit up in green on St Patrick’s Day.
Christians also attend church services and the Lenten restrictions on eating and drinking alcohol are lifted for the day. Perhaps because of this, drinking alcohol – particularly Irish whiskey, beer or cider – has become an integral part of the celebrations.
The St Patrick’s Day custom of ‘drowning the shamrock‘ or ‘wetting the shamrock‘ was historically popular, especially in Ireland. At the end of the celebrations, shamrock is put into the bottom of a cup, which is then filled with whiskey, beer or cider. It is then drank as a toast; to St Patrick, to Ireland, or to those present. The shamrock would either be swallowed with the drink, or be taken out and tossed over the shoulder for good luck.
In every household the herb is placed upon the breakfast table of the master and the mistress, who “drown the shamrock” in generous draughts of whiskey, and then send the bottle down into the kitchen for the servants.
On St Patrick’s Day it is customary to wear shamrocks and/or green clothing or accessories (the “wearing of the green”). St Patrick is said to have used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish. This story first appears in writing in 1726, though it may be older.
Long before the shamrock became associated with St. Patrick’s Day, the four-leaf clover was regarded by ancient Celts as a charm against evil spirits.
In pagan Ireland, three was a significant number and the Irish had many triple deities, a fact that may have aided St Patrick in his evangelisation efforts. Patricia Monaghan says there is no evidence that the shamrock was sacred to the pagan Irish. However, Jack Santino speculates that it may have represented the regenerative powers of nature, and was recast in a Christian context—icons of St Patrick often depict the saint “with a cross in one hand and a sprig of shamrocks in the other”. Roger Homan writes, “We can perhaps see St Patrick drawing upon the visual concept of the triskele when he uses the shamrock to explain the Trinity”.
In the early 1900’s, O. H. Benson, an Iowa school superintendent, came up with the idea of using a clover as the emblem for a newly founded agricultural club for children in his area. In 1911, the four-leaf clover was chosen as the emblem for the national club program, later named 4-H.
The color green has been associated with Ireland since at least the 1640’s, when the green harp flag was used by the Irish Catholic Confederation. Green ribbons and shamrocks have been worn on St Patrick’s Day since at least the 1680s. The Friendly Brothers of St Patrick, an Irish fraternity founded in about 1750, adopted green as its color.
However, when the Order of St. Patrick—an Anglo-Irish chivalric order—was founded in 1783 it adopted blue as its color, which led to blue being associated with St Patrick. During the 1790’s, green would become associated with Irish nationalism, due to its use by the United Irishmen. This was a republican organisation—led mostly by Protestants but with many Catholic members—who launched a rebellion in 1798 against British rule.
The phrase “wearing of the green” comes from a song of the same name, which laments United Irishmen supporters being persecuted for wearing green. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the color green and its association with St Patrick’s Day grew.
The wearing of the ‘St Patrick’s Day Cross’ was also a popular custom in Ireland until the early 20th century. These were a Celtic Christian cross made of paper that was “covered with silk or ribbon of different colors, and a bunch or rosette of green silk in the center”.
The most popular of the many legends about St. Patrick is the one which credits him for having driven all the snakes and vermin out of Ireland.
Here’s an old old poem about it:
There’s not a mile in Ireland’s isle
where the dirty vermin musters;
Where’er he put his dear forefoot
he murdered them in clusters.
The toads went hop, the frogs went flop,
slap dash into the water,
And the beasts committed suicide to
save themselves from slaughter.
Nine hundred thousand vipers blue
he charmed with sweet discourses.
And dined on them at Killaloo
in soups and second courses.
When blindworms crawling on the grass
disgusted all the nation,
He gave them a rise and opened their eyes
to a sense of the situation.
The Wicklow Hills are very high, and
so’s the Hill of Howth, sir;
But there’s a hill much higher still—ay,
higher than them both, sir;
‘Twas on the top of this high hill St.
Patrick preached the sarmint
That drove the frogs into the bogs and
bothered all the varmint.
About St Patrick
Patrick was a 5th-century Romano-British Christian missionary and bishop in Ireland. Much of what is known about Saint Patrick comes from the Declaration, which was allegedly written by Patrick himself. It is believed that he was born in Roman Britain in the fourth century, into a wealthy Romano-British family. His father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest in the Christian church.
According to the Declaration, at the age of sixteen, he was kidnapped by Irish raiders and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. ] It says that he spent six years there working as a shepherd and that during this time he “found God”. The Declaration says that God told Patrick to flee to the coast, where a ship would be waiting to take him home. After making his way home, Patrick went on to become a priest.
According to tradition, Patrick returned to Ireland to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. The Declaration says that he spent many years evangelising in the northern half of Ireland and converted “thousands”. Patrick’s efforts against the druids were eventually turned into an allegory in which he drove “snakes” out of Ireland (Ireland never had any snakes).
Tradition holds that he died on 17 March and was buried at Downpatrick. Over the following centuries, many legends grew up around Patrick and he became Ireland’s foremost saint.
What many people don’t realize is that the serpent was actually a metaphor for the early Pagan faiths of Ireland. St. Patrick brought Christianity to the Emerald Isle, and did such a good job of it that he practically eliminated Paganism from the country. Because of this, some modern Pagans refuse to observe a day which honors the elimination of the old religion in favor of a new one. It’s not uncommon to see Pagans and Wiccans wearing some sort of snake symbol on St. Patrick’s Day, instead of those green “Kiss Me I’m Irish” badges.
- Colors: red, green, white
- Plants: Daffodils, leeks
- Activities: Send flowers, attend concerts, host a dinner party
Saint David’s Day is the feast day of Saint David, the patron saint of Wales, and falls on 1 March each year. The date of 1 March was chosen in remembrance of the death of Saint David on that day in 589, and has been celebrated by followers since then. The date was declared a national day of celebration within Wales in the 18th century.
The 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys noted how Welsh celebrations in London for St David’s day would spark wider counter-celebrations among their English neighbors: life-sized effigies of Welshmen were symbolically lynched, and by the 18th century the custom had arisen of confectioners producing ‘Taffies’ – gingerbread figures baked in the shape of a Welshman riding a goat – on St David’s Day.
In 2003 in the United States, St. David’s Day was recognized officially as the national day of the Welsh, and on 1 March the Empire State Building was floodlit in the national colors, red, green and white. It is invariably celebrated by Welsh societies throughout the world with dinners, parties, recitals and concerts.
To celebrate this day, people wear a symbol of either a leek, or daffodil. The leek arises from an occasion when a troop of Welsh were able to distinguish each other from a troop of English enemy dressed in similar fashion by wearing leeks. An alternative emblem developed in recent years is the daffodil.
Gobnait is Irish for Abigail which means “Brings Joy”. As the patron saint of beekeepers, her name also has been anglicized as Deborah, meaning “Honey Bee.” This Irish saint is a version of the deity Domna, patroness of sacred stones and cairns. The center of her worship was at Ballybourney, Co. Cork, Ireland.
Her feast day, February 11 is called “Pattern Day” in the parishes of Dún Chaoin and in Baile Bhúirne, and is regarded as both holiday and holy day. In one tradition, a medieval wooden carving of Gobnait, about two feet high, kept in a church drawer during the year, is brought out. Parishioners bring a ribbon to ”measure” the statue. This ribbon is then taken home to use when special blessings are needed.
July 26, is the Feast of St. Anne, Mother of Mary and grandmother of Jesus.
Shellfish and lobster are served in France for their Saint Anne’s Day, July 26th. The most celebrated sight of St. Anne feast day is the annual ten day Saint Ann’s Solemn Novena made at Saint Ann’s Monastery Church at the Shrine of St. Ann de Beaupre in Quebec, Canada. The ten day novena begins on July 16 ends on July 26th, the feast of St Ann.
Patron Anne intervenes against poverty and for cabinetmakers; carpenters; childless couples; equestrians; grandmothers; grandparents; homemakers; housewives; miners; mothers; pregnancy; pregnant women; and women in labor.
If you fall into the above categories, this might be a good day to say some prayers to Saint Anne. The series of prayers for the novena can be found here.
When told by Roman officials to surrender the church’s valuables, St. Lawrence brought the city’s poor and sick. “Here is the church’s treasure,” he said. Rome didn’t find this amusing, and legend says he was put to death in A.D. 258 by being roasted on a grate, although some scholars say he was more likely beheaded. In either case, folks in southern Europe still mark this day.
- It is customary there to eat only cold meat in recognition of the reputed manner of his death.
- Fair weather on St. Lawrence’s Day presages a fair autumn.
In the book 365 Goddess, she has some different ideas about how to celebrate St Lawrence day. They are as follows:
From ancient times people marked the time of the return of the sun, the shortest and longest night. In olden times it was called the Feast of the Dews- Rasos. When Christianity was established in Lithuania, the name was changed to Feast of St. John, according to agrarian folk calendar, the start of haying.
The rituals of the longest day were closely related to agrarian ideas and notions. The main aim was to protect the harvest from natural calamities, evil souls, witches and mid summer visitors like drought, hail, downpours of rain and thunder.
In the 15th century, visitors to Lithuania wrote that in Vilnius, the celebrations took place in the eastern section of the city, the place of the present day “Rasos” cemetery. Fires were lit on hills and in dales. People danced, sang, ate and drank. On the Feast of St John a special role was granted to the sun. The sun is constantly mentioned in songs sung on the longest day of the year.
On this ritual day, farmers paid special attention to water’s special powers in reviving soil and making it productive. Witching on this day were carried out near and with water, people washed themselves and their animals. Special attention was paid to the dew because it revives plants at night. At sunrise farmers made their way around the fields, pulling a branch which brushed the dew to fall into the soil and cause a good harvest.
Maidens tried to get up before sunrise, collect the dew and wash their faces with it to make them bright and beautiful. They would also get up at night, go outside to wet their faces in the dew and returned to bed without wiping their faces dry. If that night they dreamt of a young man bringing them a towel, they hoped that he would be the one they would marry.
Flourishing plants were worshiped because it was believed that plants collected on the eve of the Feast of St. John posses magic powers to heal, bring luck and foretell the future. This is an ancient ritual practiced mainly by women. Roses, common daisies, especially the herb St. John’s worth and numerous grasses were some of the main plants collected at this time.
A festival pole, decorated with flowers and greenery was called “Kupolė”. Folklore shows that “Kupolė” was the Goddess of plants, living in aromatic plants, blossoms or in buds in summer and in snowdrifts in winter.
In Lithuania Minor, even in winter before the Feast of St. John, women made haste to collect medicinal herbs, with the belief that after June 24th all herbs lose their healing powers.
Girls returned to the village after picking flowers and singing, wreathed the festival post, “Kupolė”, and added colorful fluttering ribbons to it. This festival post was set at the far end of the village, near the grain fields. It had to be defended during two days and nights from young men who tried to steal it.
After saving the post, the girls removed the decorative herbs and grasses and divided them amongst themselves because these herbs had special protective powers against evil spirits and illnesses.
In some regions bunches containing nine plants were gathered by women on the eve of the Feast of St. John. Some of the plants were fed to animals before midnight, so they would be protected from evil eyes. Bunches of St. John’s worth were placed behind pictures of saints. If this bunch did not wilt fast, it was believed that it will be a lucky year.
It was believed that wreaths concentrate perpetual life’s forces and are symbols of immortality and life. There were many rites and witching’s associated with wreaths during this longest summer’s night.
Walk around three fields and gather bunches of nine flowers, twine a wreath and place it under your pillow. You will marry the man, who in your dream comes to take away the wreath. At midnight, twelve wreaths were dropped into a river and observed if they were pairing off. If no pairing off occurred, there was to be no marriage that year.
Near the river Nemunas, wreaths were dropped in the water, only when the river was calm and observed to which direction they drifted. Matchmakers would come from that direction. Releasing the wreath with the current, it will be caught by a young man, the maiden will be his. Should the wreath float away without being caught, the maiden will keep that wreath all year in her dowry chest, as a symbol of luck and health.
In the seacoast region, all during the night, young men and women twined wreaths from ferns, placed candles and set them in streams. Should both their wreaths swim together, they believed that they would marry that year.
In some regions wreaths twined during the night of the Feast of St. John were placed at crossroads with the belief that ones future will be seen in a dream.
The rites of this day continued till sunrise around bonfires. The site selected for ritual bonfires was always in the most beautiful area, on hills, on river shores and near lakes. In some regions bonfires were lit on future grain fields and under linden trees.
Those who are not fond of socializing on the eve, hurry and gather along lake shores, light bonfires, place burning poles, covered with tar into trees, so that there would be light all night long until sunrise. Special decorated wheels were lit and were rolled down hillsides, this symbolized the sun’s moving away from the earth and at the same time a request for her return.
In ancient times, the ritual fires were lit by senior priests, “vaidilos”. That fire was started with sparks coming from rubbing dried roots of medicinal herbs or from flying sparks when striking flint stones. Such fires would protect from epidemics, illnesses, poor harvests, hail and lightning.
Eggs were thrown into the fires and animals sacrificed. Later straw dolls were sacrificed in place of animals.
The ritual fires were built up to throw their light over a large area of fields, to assure a big autumn harvest. On the eve of this feast day, home fires were put out and new fires were lit using glowing coals from the ritual fires of that day.
It was believed that these ritual fires had special powers, which would protect from misfortunes, bring health and harmony to the family. It was important for newlyweds to light the fire in their hearth with the coals of the miraculous ritual fire. Such a family would be blessed, live well and in total harmony.
Jumping over fires or around it had magic meaning. Ritual bonfires cleansed both physically and psychologically. Sick adults and children were brought to the ritual fires and were pulled through the fire, with the belief that they would be healed. Jumping over the fire was carried out with the belief of making better health, increasing body strength for hard summer labors and assuring better growth of grain and flax.
Ritual fires’ ashes, smoldering coals had special powers to increase the harvest and protect it from natural calamities. The coals were dug under in fields; ashes were sprinkled on crops to assure good crop yields. To keep weeds from growing in grain fields, ritual fires’ wood splinter remains were tied to the plough share when ploughing the fields.
The feast of St. John is connected with summer weddings and their rituals which were bound to affect family living and population increases. Should a pair become friends this night, there will definitely be a wedding.
The night of June 24th is the shortest night of the year, filled with bird sounds and luxuriant vegetation. Darkness substitutes light unnoticeably, night is full of miracles due to fire reflections and shadows. It was believed that activity during this night of supernatural creatures or female witches was ill disposed towards men, animals and plants. To keep animals from their malevolent actions, animals were put in barns before sunset and were fed bread with salt for protection. Mountain ash branches and wheat sprays were hung on door posts for protection against evil spirits
In some regions clogs were placed in front of a mirror. Witches would step into the clogs and run away upset by their frightful image in the mirror.
“Šatrija” was the most famous witches’ hill, where during the night of the Feast of St. John, witches party and rage all night and invent all kinds of enchanting. This is why one could not do without “witches’ burnings”. Young people tied a barrel filled with tar and sawdust to a high pole, sprinkled it with salt so that the witches would crackle. The barrel was set on fire while the young people sang and danced merrily. Next morning the cow herd was driven through the remaining ashes, with the belief that witching’s will no longer be harmful.
During the night of the Feast of St. John, the miraculous fern bursts into bloom. It is difficult to catch sight of this bloom; however this difficulty can be overcome by going to the forest the day before, cutting down a mountain ash, pruning the branches and cutting off the top. Then pulling the tree backwards, walk about one hundred steps without looking back, toward the side to which the cut tree fell.
Look back after the hundred steps and then you will see the devil sitting stuck in the ash tree. The devil will ask for your help to get off the tree and for your help will tell you where to find the blooming fern. When you locate the blooming fern, ghosts will attack with butting horns whirlwinds will howl and cats will cry. Then take a cane made of mountain ash, draw a circle around you with it, spread a linen cloth and stop being afraid. The fern blossom will fall on the cloth. Some say that the fern bloom is like birch dust, others describe it as round and white like carp’s scale.
Prepared by: http://ausis.gf.vu.lt/eka/
Photos by: Gintaras Jaronis, Vytautas Darasevičius, Leonardas Šidlauskas and A. Kiričenko.