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.

Symbols

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.

Public Life

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.

Background

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

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