Originally published on www.celebrations360.com
St. Jean Baptiste Days falls on June 24, during the summer solstice season. While most commonly known by its French name and as the national day of Quebec, it is known in English as St. John’s Day, an important day to the Order of Free and Accepted Mason.
For thousands of years there have been celebrations and festivals, usually related to the changing of the seasons as marked by the annual cycle of solstice and equinox. The long days of summer solstice made this a season of warmth and light and thus an important period of celebration long before Christianity. Seasonal foods and flowers were an important part of the festivities, as were customs of bonfires, dancing, music, and other “pagan” celebrations.
This is a classic case of Christianity absorbing and modifying holiday customs from a previous society and making it its own. Many festivities remained much the same after this transition, with only a thin veneer of Christianity binding these pagan customs to the newly named Christian holiday.
St. John the Baptist was the Jewish preacher who baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. The feast of St. John the Baptist came to be celebrated on June 24. As the Church spread through Europe, this day became especially popular in France during the late Middle Ages. Many of these customs were exported to New France in the 17th century.
Evolution to the National Holiday of Quebec
There are Jesuit records of celebrations in New France dating from the 1630s. From the 1830s, with the influence of Ludger Davernay, St. Jean Baptiste Day became a national celebration, with the efforts to bring an end to British Rule. From this time on, with Duvernay’s introduction of patriotism into the celebrations, St. Jean Baptiste Day has been the national holiday of Quebec. In the late 19th century, parades became popular, and these events in Quebec and Montreal brought large crowds out in celebration.
St. Joseph was the original patron saint of Quebec. However, St. Joseph’s Day, falling on March 19, is not a good time for outdoor festivals in a cold northern climate. St. Jean Baptiste was a popular festival in Quebec from the beginning, late June being a pleasant time for such celebrations. St.- Jean-Baptiste became the official patron saint of Quebec by Papal decree in 1908.
While the celebration waned some during and after World War I, in 1925 it became a provincial public holiday in Quebec. During the 1960s and 1970s, this holiday sometimes overtly celebrated Quebecois Nationalism. This began to change in 1977, as it became officially the national holiday of Quebec.
In modern times, there are large concerts held in city parks and other open-air venues. In recent years, as immigration has changed Canada in many ways, other (non-French) residents of Quebec have become involved. In addition to traditional French Canadian music, one may hear Scottish Bag Pipe bands, Caribbean bands, and many other types of music. It is a holiday with the types of festivities Americans commonly associate with the Fourth of July: music, parades, family gatherings, and food at barbecues and picnics.
Originally a solstice event, Christianity modified this late June day into a largely religious holiday, which was then exported to Quebec. It gradually evolved into a mostly secular festival, at times with political overtones. These have become less pronounced since the late 1970s. Today, while it retains its religious origins in name, this national day of Quebec is largely secular in nature.
St. John’s Day and the Masonic Festival
The 24th of June is also celebrated in the English world, though differently. While often called simply St. John’s Day, it is sometimes known as St. John the Baptist Day to distinguish it from St. John the Evangelist Day, which is December 27.
The Free and Accepted Masons of New York State support the Masonic Care Community (MCC) in Utica, New York. This is a large health care center with facilities for long term care of the elderly, as well as assisted living, a rehabilitation center, a child day care center, home care services, a chapel, and an independent living apartment complex.
The MCC has an annual open house on a late June weekend. Masons come and visit from around the state to see first hand the facility that the fraternal order supports. There are different types of food and music, arts and crafts, special worship and Masonic ceremonies, and a Shriner’s Parade on Saturday afternoon. This is St. John’s Day, though in recent years it is sometimes called the Masonic Festival.
Both the French of Quebec and the Masonic Fraternity are observing the same day, though with different names and emphasis. These celebrations, originating from pagan celebration of the solstice, are overlaid with a cloak of Christianity. Now, in the 21st century, it has become a largely secular holiday.
Cowie, L. W., and Gummer, John Selwyn. The Christian Calendar. Springfield, Massacusetts: G. & C. Merriman Company, Publishers, 1974.