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Thursday, June 23, 2011

About St. John's Eve

St John's Eve (or Oiche Fheile Eoin) is celebrated in many parts of Ireland with the lighting of bonfires. In Northern Ireland it is termed Bonfire Night. This ancient custom has its roots in pre-Christian Irish society when the Celts honored the Goddess Áine, the Celtic equivalent of Venus and Aphrodite. She was the Goddess Queen of Munster and Christianised rituals in her honour (as Naomh Áine) took place until the nineteenth century on Knockainy, (Cnoc Áine – the Hill of Áine) in County Limerick.

During the festival, people would say prayers, asking for God's blessing upon their crops. They would also take ashes from the fire, and spread them over their land as a blessing for protection for their crops. It was also common to have music, singing, dancing, and games during the festival. The fire was used for destroying small objects of piety (rosary beads, statues, etc.) without disrespecting God. It was also common for people to jump through the flames of the bonfire for good luck.

In Thomas Flanagan's The Year of the French, the ancient festival of St John's Eve takes place. The book is set during the Irish rebellion of 1798. Here is an excerpt from The Year of the French:

Soon it would be Saint John's Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple HIll, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John's Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits.

Some regions of Ireland follow a custom seemingly inspired by the activity from which this saint takes his title, Baptist (more accurately, Baptizer). They head to the ocean and immerse themselves in its waters. In this, they imitate the original form of baptism practiced by St John, as well as by the early Christians.

From: Wikipedia
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