Did You Know: Saint John’s Eve Around the World

According to the Gospel of Luke, John was born six months before Jesus, so the birthday of the saint was commemorated on 24 June. It is actually one of the very few anniversaries that honours the birth of a holy person, rather than the death. On Saint John’s Eve festivities are held in many countries, according to their own special folklore heritage. The night of 23 June promises a series of traditional happenings across the globe and here is how the special date is spent in Hungary and around the world.


First of all, Hungarians celebrate Szentiván-éj (Ivan translated from the Slavic form of John) on 21 June. The significance of the event is also proven by the fact that up until the 19th century, the whole month of June was called Month of St. Ivan. The folklore traditions include setting a bonfire and having girls jump over it.


Saint John the Baptist is a popular figure in the Mediterranean country, indeed: he is the patron saint of several cities like Genoa, Florence and Turin. Bonfires, street markets, fireworks, live music and dancing take place – the festivities can last from 21 to 24 June in several cities across the country.


The festival is called ‘sobótki’ in Poland. Young women wear crowns made of colourful wild flowers that they throw into a nearby lake later on. Similarly to the Hungarian traditions, bonfires are also lit and the adventurous ones are welcome to jump over it.


Referred to as the “midsummer’s eve”, the holiday was originally a fertility festival, aiming to celebrate the beginning of the season. One of the main elements is the so called Midsummer pole – a.k.a. maypole – decorated with flowers.


Though “Fête de la Saint-Jean” (meaning feast of St. John) may resemble some old pagan rituals, it is a Catholic celebration of the saint. In some regions of the country, like the Southern part of Meurthe-et-Moselle, the spectacular bonfire is called “chavande”.