Today is the hottest day yet in New York City’s latest heat wave, and the summer weather is no less forgiving in many other cities in the western hemisphere. To help beat the heat, car service app Uber is offering ice cream trucks on demand, today only from 11-5 p.m. in 33 cities worldwide. The stunt is to help promote the app’s expansion to new cities in the United States and in Australia, Europe and Singapore.
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.
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.
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.
Pickled herring, drinking songs, a pole covered in flowers, boiled potatoes, dancing like frogs. Yes, that’s Swedish Midsommar (otherwise known as “Midsummer” in English).
Thanks to Swedish roots around the world and a general love of Scandinavian culture, the popular Swedish holiday – the sun was gone all winter, you would want to celebrate the longest day of the year too – is well known outside of the Nordic lands.
Not well versed on this Swedish celebration? First off, get the basics from this video by the Sweden.se:
Now, let’s get to the important part: celebrating. How are you going to get a Midsummer celebration going if you’re not in Sweden? Easy. Follow these simple steps.
Round up a few friends that like to eat and drink.
This will probably be your easiest task.
Find a long table.
Midsummer dinner tends to be served as a sit down meal complete with a nice tablecloth, napkins and real silverware. This is not your average American BBQ.
Make a midsummer pole.
If you don’t have the manpower to hoist up a long one, construct a smaller makeshift one.
Dance around said midsummer pole.
Dancing is a precursor to eating.
Track down some pickled herring.
It’s not Swedish Midsummer without it.
Again, you can’t call it Swedish Midsummer if you don’t have the classic drink.
Make a dessert that involves fresh berries.
Preferably strawberries and ideally in cake format.
Eat and drink late into the night/early morning.
The sun isn’t really going to ever set after all.
At least a dozen train drivers in Sweden have taken to wearing skirts as they go about their job after their employer banned them from wearing shorts.
The men, who operate trains north of Stockholm, wanted to wear shorts during warmer weather but were forbidden from doing so after their train line was taken over by a new company this year. The drivers said they collectively decided to wear skirts once summer started because they were much more breathable than pants.
“The passengers stare at us but so far no one has said anything – well, not to me, anyway. And I don’t mind as it’s more about comfort,” one driver told the BBC.In an interesting twist, the company operating the train line has given the male conductors the green light to continue wearing the female attire. A representative explained the decision to a local newspaper, saying, “Our thinking is that one should look decent and proper when representing Arriva and the present uniforms do that. If the man only wants [to wear] a skirt then that is OK. To tell them to do something else would be discrimination.”
Nothing like stereotypes to really give you the feel of a country. It seems that a lot of people have a soft spot for anything that gives us an insider look – whether true or not – at Scandinavia. Why Scandinavian, and in particular Swedish culture, is of such interest is a bit beyond me, but there’s certainly an obsession with that country in the north that brought us flat-pack furniture and ABBA. People do love their Swedish videos.Wherever the interest in Sweden comes from, everyone from John Stewart to the Gevalia coffee guy like to give us a taste of it.
And now there’s a new video to give yet another look at Swedish culture. A little over the top, but if you have a thing for tongue-in-cheek sketches about Sweden, this one’s for you.
It’s titled “Swedishness” and, well … I’ll leave the rest up to you.