Better Know A Holiday: St. John’s Day (And Eve)

Witch burning on St. John's Day
f_jensen_at_sdr.vinge, Flickr

AKA: Fete Nationale du Quebec (Canada), Kupala Day (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland), Festa Junina (Brazil), Foguera de San Xuan (Brazil), Jaanilaupaev (Estonia), Saint Jonas’ Festival (Lithuania), Jani (Latvia), Dia de Sao Joao (Portugal), Sant Joan (Spain), Johnsmas Foy (Scotland)

When? June 23 (Eve) and 24 (Day)

Public holiday in: Quebec, Canada; Turin, Italy; Catalonia, Spain; Estonia; Latvia; Lithuania; Porto, Portugal

Who died? St. John the Baptist. June 24 is his feast day.

What’s a feast day? Certain Christian traditions, notably Roman Catholic, keep track of which liturgies are given when by way of something called the General Roman Calendar, or Universal Calendar of Saints. Around 60 percent of the days of the Gregorian calendar year are associated with one or more saints, martyrs or holy figures. Even some relics have feast days. The feast day for St. Peter’s chair is on February 22. St. John the Baptist’s feast day falls on June 24.

Interestingly, St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers, lost his feast day back in 1969. A lot of people think St. Christopher was “desanctified,” or lost his sainthood, but in fact he was just stripped of his feast day because there’s no proof he actually existed.

Also interestingly, the patron saint of travelers is also the patron saint of bachelors and bookbinders, among other things.

You were saying about St. John the Baptist… Right.

So why June 24 of all days? That’s when John the Baptist is said to have been born. But more than that, Christianity has a long tradition of co-opting pagan rituals into Christian holidays. It’s a good way to gain converts. Pagan celebrations generally aligned with the turning of the seasons – equinoxes and solstices. And so Christians have major holidays around these dates: Easter near the vernal equinox, Christmas near the winter solstice and Michaelmas, which celebrates Lucifer being cast out from heaven, near the autumnal equinox.That June 24 is close to the summer solstice is certainly not a coincidence. Even if the summer solstice used to be celebrated on a different date (which it was when we used the Julian calendar), the church would have had a significant feast day to coincide with such a major celebration in the northern hemisphere.

Is that why it’s particularly popular in northern Europe? Bingo, mysterious person. St. John’s Day is celebrated all over the world, but the biggest celebrations occur in traditionally Christian nations well above the equator. In strongly Christian countries like Ecuador, where there is little change in sunrise and sunset throughout the year, it’s not such a big deal. But in Tallinn, Estonia, the sun sets at about 10:45 p.m. on the summer solstice and 3:30 p.m. on the winter solstice. St. John’s Day is just an extension of the reverence these places have for the summer solstice.

But isn’t it celebrated in Brazil? Yes, and other places where colonial powers instilled their traditions. Joao Fernandes, an early Portuguese explorer, was particularly devoted to the holiday and took John the Baptist as the patron saint of his exploits at Pernambuco, which is where St. John’s day is celebrated most in Brazil today. Fernandes had canons fire salutes around the camp all day long in celebration. This was in no small part because he shared the same name with the saint.

John the Baptist is also the patron saint of French Canada. And Turin, Italy and Porto, Portugal and numerous other places as well. That’s why Quebec celebrates June 24 as its national day.

Fete Nationale du Quebec
abdallahh, Flickr

Is it celebrated the same everywhere? Not quite, though most celebrations share one thing in common: fire. If there’s one thing everyone does on St. John’s Eve, it’s get rid of their old furniture and spare kindling in a giant bonfire. Or if you’re in Shetland, Scotland, where wood is in short supply, your excess heather and peat.

The city of Poznan in Poland had a unique take on the fire tradition in 2012, when they released 8,000 Chinese lanterns into the sky on St. John’s Night, setting a world record in the process.

Bonfires are more typical and are found everywhere, from prominent mountain peaks to valleys and plains. If you’re a traditional fisherman from Brittany, France…

I’m not. Well, if you were, you’d even light a fire on top of your ship’s mainmast to celebrate with your fishing fleet. Curiously, Breton fisherman are said to have a fear of tailors, another group that John the Baptist patronizes.

Elsewhere, the celebrations have unique local flavor. In Scandinavia, figures of witches are added to the flames because, as on Halloween, demons and evil spirits are said to be able to roam freely this day. Up until the 1700s, the French would incinerate cats by the sackful and chase a flaming cat through the streets, evil incarnate as they were (the cats, not the French… ostensibly).

Latvians eat a special cheese flavored with caraway seeds. Ukrainians eat eggs, dumplings and liquor for dinner. Ukrainians will also symbolically wash themselves with the morning dew after watching the sun rise, as do the Lithuanians.

Girls celebrating Jani in Latvia
Dace Kiršpile, Flickr

The Irish and others will set a wagon wheel on fire and roll it down a hill to symbolize the sun’s decline. With any luck, there’s nothing flammable at the bottom. Many cultures will dress in traditional costumes. Russians douse each other with water in one of the few actual nods to John the Baptist. The Swedes, celebrating their Midsommar festival a few days before St. John’s Day, raise a giant pole that is supposed to imbue the earth with fertile soil.

Sounds phallic. Indeed. In fact, most rites and rituals surrounding the summer solstice have to do with fertility. Many of the cultures celebrating St. John’s incorporate dancing and singing erotic songs into the celebrations, much to the consternation of the Church, I expect. It’s said to be a good time to predict who will be your future spouse, as well.

No need. Well, another common activity is jumping through the flames. It’s said to cleanse and purify the soul. Or you could wear a garland of flowers.

Not really for me, either. Can I just see some photos? Sure. Check out a slideshow of St. John’s Day (and Night) celebrations from around the world below.

Check out more holidays around the world here.

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Survey Ranks ‘World’s Most Unfriendliest’ Countries

Have you ever been to a country that just seems to give tourists the cold shoulder? Now, there are some figures behind those unwelcome feelings; the World Economic Forum has put together a report that ranks countries based on how friendly they are to tourists.

The extensive analyses ranks 140 countries according to attractiveness and competitiveness in the travel and tourism industries. But one category, “attitude of population toward foreign visitors,” stands out.

According the data, Bolivia (pictured above) ranked as the most unfriendly country, scoring a 4.1 out of seven on a scale of “very unwelcome” (0) to “very welcome” (7).

Next on the list were Venezuela and the Russian Federation, followed by Kuwait, Latvia and Iran (perhaps when visiting one of these countries, you should try your best to not look like a tourist?).

On the opposite side of the scale were Iceland, New Zealand and Morocco, which were ranked the world’s most welcoming nations for visitors.

Tourism infrastructure, business travel appeal, sustainable development of natural resources and cultural resources were some of the key factors in the rankings. Data was compiled from an opinion survey, as well as hard data from private sources and national and international agencies and organizations such as the World Bank/International Finance Corporation and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), among others.

The report also emphasized the need for continued development in the travel and tourism sector, pointing out that the industry currently accounts for one in 11 jobs worldwide.

All of the results of the survey can be found after the jump.

Attitude of population toward foreign visitors
(1 = very unwelcome; 7 = very welcome)

Friendliest

1. Iceland 6.8
2. New Zealand 6.8
3. Morocco 6.7
4. Macedonia, FYR 6.7
5. Austria 6.7
6. Senegal 6.7
7. Portugal 6.6
8. Bosnia and Herzegovina 6.6
9. Ireland 6.6
10. Burkina Faso 6.6

Unfriendliest

1. Bolivia 4.1
2. Venezuela 4.5
3. Russian Federation 5.0
4. Kuwait 5.2
5. Latvia 5.2
6. Iran 5.2
7. Pakistan 5.3
8. Slovak Republic 5.5
9. Bulgaria 5.5
10. Mongolia 5.5

Have you ever visited somewhere where they didn’t exactly roll out the welcome mat? Alternatively, have you visited somewhere on the “unfriendly” list and had a great, welcoming experience? Let us know how your travel experiences compare with the survey’s ranking in the comments below.

[via CNN]

[Photo credit: Phil Whitehouse, Wikimedia Commons]

New Airline Program Pairs Seatmates Based On ‘Mood’

seatbuddy “Do you want your seat neighbor to be like-minded, share hobbies with you or speak a specific language? Do you want to chat, or to rest while flying?” These are the questions asked by airBaltic, the national airline of Latvia who is introducing a new SeatBuddy program.

SeatBuddy is designed to pair seatmates based on three specific “moods”: those who want to do work, those who want to make new contacts and those who simply want to be left alone. Passenger information will be collected in a secure database, and will take into account fliers’ hobbies and interests to seat those with similar personalities together.

SeatBuddy is optional and free, and testing of the service will begin at the end of this month. From there, the airline will be able to see its commercial potential. The idea grew after KLM Royal Dutch Airlines implemented social media seating and allowed passengers to choose seatmates via Facebook.

What do you think of this new service?

The world’s most ethical tourism destinations

ethical tourism destinationsEach year, non-profit organization Ethical Traveler conducts a survey of the world’s developing nations, analyzing their progress toward promoting human rights, preserving their environment, and developing a sustainable tourism industry. The study, run by Ethical Traveler’s all-volunteer staff, factors in country scores from databases like Freedom House, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the World Bank, then dives into actions that governments have taken to improve circumstances within their countries in the previous year.

The top countries are celebrated in Ethical Traveler’s annual list of the Developing World’s Best Ethical Tourism Destinations, with the hope that increased tourism will help those countries continue to improve. “Travel and tourism are among the planet’s driving economic forces, and every journey we take makes a statement about our priorities and commitment to change,” they say. “Ethical Traveler believes that mindful travel is a net positive for the planet. By choosing our destinations well and remembering our role as citizen diplomats, we can create international goodwill and help change the world for the better.”

This year’s list includes Argentina, the Bahamas, Chile, Costa Rica, Dominica, Latvia, Mauritius, Palau, Serbia, and Uruguay. Explore these countries more in the slideshow below.

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[Flickr image via Lisandro M. Enrique]

Israel, Chile, Slovak Republic among countries with highest adventure travel potential

Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic are amongst the top adventure travel destinationA new study conducted by George Washington University, Vital Wave Consulting, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) shows that Israel, Chile, and the Slovak Republic led the way in adventure tourism in 2010. The study, which resulted in the third annual Adventure Tourism Development Index, uses a mix of quantitative data and expert surveys to rank nations from around the globe on their approach and commitment to sustainable adventure travel.

The study examines what researchers call the “ten pillars” of adventure tourism. Those pillars include such things as infrastructure, cultural resources, adventure activities, entrepreneurship, and more. When those factors were all examined and ranked accordingly, for each country, a score was calculated that resulted in rankings for both developed and developing nations.

So exactly which countries earned high marks in the latest Adventure Tourism Development Index? The top ten developing countries included the following: Israel, Slovak Republic, Chile, Estonia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Jordan, Romania and Latvia.Conversely, the top ten developed nations included: Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Ireland, Norway, Finland and Austria.

The ATTA is quick to point out that these lists are not an indication of how well visited these countries currently are as adventure travel destinations, although some are already popular amongst travelers. Instead, it is a general rating on the climate that exists in these places that make it possible to support sustainable tourism now and into the future.

Judging from the list, it appears that Europe is well ahead of the game in terms of promoting sustainable travel. Both lists are dominated by countries from that continent, which could come as a surprise to many travelers.

To read the entire report click here.