The fact that the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is celebrated only days after the summer solstice is no coincidence. 

From his birthday on June 24, three days after what is traditionally considered the longest day of the year, the sun will gradually begin it annual descent and the days become shorter. 

Three days after the winter solstice is Christmas Day, when days start to become longer and when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. The timing of these days is significant because St. John is considered as the lamp, but Christ is the true light of the world, thus fulfilling St. John’s prophecy, “He must increase, I must decrease.”

In some areas, St. John’s Day was considered the first day of summer and included festivals and traditions, including the burning of St. John’s fire, using the flames as a reference to light.

The day was also considered one of several “charmed festivals” throughout the year. Tradition held that hidden treasures were to lie open in unlikely places. Legend also has it that herbs were given unusual healing powers which they would retain if picked that night. People would later bring these herbs to church for a special blessing.

In medieval times, the customs of St. John’s Day even took on a romantic twist. In Sardinia, by the end of March, young men would present themselves to the young women of the village to make a pact to be sweethearts. At the end of May, the young ladies would make pots from tree bark and fill them with earth, sowing wheat and barley.

On St. John’s Day, the couples would dress in their fanciest attire, proceed to the local church and throw the pot against the church door. Following that odd ritual, the couple would sit and eat eggs. Perhaps not surprisingly, wine was involved in this ceremony.

Romance also played a role in Sicily, where couples became sweethearts on St. John’s feast day. The couples presented each other with plates of corn, lentils and canary seed.

In Rome, the celebration continues to include the eating of snails.

Traditions have also developed in the United States, especially in New York where Americans, traditionally of Puerto Rican descent, hold fiestas in the name of St. John. The fiestas include Mass, processions, piñatas and picnics.