Friday, June 24, 2011

The Birth of St. John the Baptist is Totally Far Out, Man

Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. The Church celebrates his birthday because he's the herald to Christ and proclaimed through word and works the coming of the Kingdom of God.

But why on this day?

The Feast day falls on the last day of Midsummer which began on June 21 (the solstice). This day is the longest day of the year. In some places, bonfires are lit to commemorate the enduring sun. Although there are pagan celebrations as well, fires are also called "St. John's Fire" in honor of our saint. The quote from John the Baptist is also at play here. John recognizes that once Christ is in the world, his own role will diminish: "I must decrease, while he must increase" (Jn 3:30).

For the hippie set, the solstice is a time to celebrate the Burning Man festival.

During this bacchanalia, a large wooden effigy of a man is set ablaze. This festival of wicker, wildness and...ummm...weed has nothing to do with St. John. As a matter of fact, he'd totally baptize those guys.
Not sure if this is Burning Man or a Diocesan Meeting...SHU-WIING!

With soap.

Along with the bonfires, some cultures also collect various herbs for this day. St. John's wort is one such herb (again given it's name because of the day) and is hung over mantels in some homes to ward off evil. Girls in some countries weave the plant into crosses and wear them to ward off evil spirits. Maybe not so surprisingly, St. John's Wort is also medically a ward against depression. Other plants that are collected, such as marigold and chamomile, are plants that thrive in the sun and are placed on the altars of some churches on this day.
St. John's Wort, pretty flower, potent medicine.

In the Balkans, there is a custom among some people to encourage a prosperous marriage. Mothers give their daughters two coins: one gold and one silver. The gold goes in the right shoe of the girl and she puts the other in the left. and the silver one to be placed in the left shoe.The girl then supposedly goes to the Feast Day's Mass,or at least visits her priest, thus ensuring she will never be without money. This, of course, is not a Catholic belief. However, this day is also considered a "lucky" day for marriage.

Ancient Balkan coins
So, this is a pretty intricate and important feast. It's a reminder in the midst of the hot summer that Christmas is never too far away. Nor is Christ.

So, "Prepare the way of the Lord". And if you come to Mass, what the heck, put in a couple of coins. If you get rich, don't forget your priest!