Today is the feast day of St John the Baptist, an important celebration in the medieval and Tudor periods, with it coinciding with Midsummer, and a day that is still important in some Catholic countries.

Fairies, fires, dancing, feasting and drinking were all part of the celebrations.

In today’s extra “on this day in Tudor history” talk, I explain how this feast day was marked in the Tudor period, and also talk about how it is still celebrated today in my local area. It’s a lot of fun!

Book recommendations: “The English Year” by Steve Roud; “The Stations of the Sun” by Ronald Hutton; “Tudor Feast Days” e-book by the Tudor Society.

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10 thoughts on “Happy St John the Baptist Day!”
  1. Lovely celebration. I especially enjoy the self-babtism.

    I know the reformers wanted to abolish all of these celebrations as silly superstitions but how many were superstitions and how many just ancient traditions?

  2. Of course the midsummer is really the start of summer after the solstice but they didn’t bother splitting hairs back then. Saint John’s Eve was the big feast and then the midsummer the next day and it was celebrated by the whole community as you can imagine, so definitely a big time to celebrate the rise of the sun, the warmth and renewal and it is still a wonderful celebration of fertility and the sun and baptism. I love the idea of going to a pool and jumping in at midnight, especially with the humidity at the moment. It sounds like a grand celebration and wonderful time.

    Here we still have the Morris Dance and the dance of the sun with swords, the headsman choosing the sacrifice, the dragons and many costumes, the salmon and Mr Punch and so on, barrels of beer into the sea, girls dancing and decorating with flowers and many happy times. In some places they still light the Wicker Man at sunset, but it isn’t full of wildlife or the local cops, its just filled with flowers, so a very sweet smell fills the air. Then everyone sings, dances and feasts. Here in Evesham in Warwickshire they had the national morris dancing festivities over the weekend so we have had hours of wild morris dancing and other dancing in the market place and lots of fun. Lots of music and ale as well. There were dozens of different groups all in very colourful costumes and all with many different styles of dancing. There were drums and traditional bands. People had come from all over the country and we had a great time.

  3. After hearing Claire’s evocative description today, I ransacked my book cases to find my copy of The Golden Bough (which describes, in GLORIOUS detail, these fire festivals of 23rd-24th June, across christian Europe and even into Muslim North Africa: but I can’t find it, not nowhere, isn’t that just typical! Did find Hutton’s Station of the Sun and others of similar interest but not the one I wanted.
    Not heard of The English Year by Steve Roud but I’ll look it up on Amazon. Thanks Claire, much enjoyed, especially vids of local celebrations. Loving cat interaction.
    I suspect, even if I did locate my TGB book, Pickles would come and settle down on it as soon as opened, which is actually what books are for.

    1. Hi Globerose, I love those two books. Hutton is excellent, bringing our o
      d festivals back to life. He often advises on TV on various religious and other festivals and how they were celebrated in Medieval and Tudor times. Merry England should be revived.

  4. I love hearing about the old festivities that other countries indulge in and it was great seeing the video of the pool, as Bq attest’s here we have the Morris Men and different counties have their own celebrations, it was interesting hearing about the origin of the word bonfire as I did not know that, you learn something new everyday on this site.

  5. Where I live in Derbyshire, we have a couple of stone circles which, whilst they aren’t on the scale of Stonehenge or Avebury, attract a lot of Wiccans and Druids celebrating Midsummer. Oddly enough that too involves a lot of ale, lol!

  6. Here in the US, we just arrange our patio/deck furniture to look like Stonehenge and toast it with beer or wine 😉

    I’m very envious of all of your celebrations!

  7. St Jean Baptiste is the patron saint of Quebec and we have our provincial holiday on 24th June.

    It’s generally celebrated more than Canada Day a week later since that coincides with Moving Day.

  8. Hi BQ, like you, am really mesmerised by the colour, mystery and play of our ancestors before the puritans bleached out the joy and vivacity from our festivals. Hutton seems to have no truck with mumbo jumbo new ageism and we can’t be too grateful for that. OK, I am an atheist, brought up by puritans, but my ancestors had the blessing and benefit of old catholic England, its rituals and yearly festivals, and we know how much they got from them, how happy they were in their intertwined daily life and religion. I shall certainly get The English Year to learn more about them.

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