Updated: Jun 23
The Solemnity of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist is tomorrow and is sometimes called the "summer Christmas" because of his relationship to Christ and his summer birthday. I am particularly excited about this one because, thanks to our friends, we were able to make this a communal celebration with lots of fun things that I will share. Many of these traditions were done on the eve of the feast (June 23rd) but there are plenty of customs to do on the day of as well. Whether you party together on the vigil or the feast day, do it up! As you've heard me share before, I believe that building tradition is best done in the company of others and this is the perfect feast day to start doing that.
In fact, this is one of the Church's oldest and most prominent feast days. If you're like me that may catch you by surprise because not much seems to be done for it anymore. But in 506AD the Council of Agde listed this Solemnity as one of the highest feasts so attending Mass was a requirement and you were to abstain from doing any work on that day. In 1022AD, Germany prescribed a 14 day fast and abstinence period to prepare for this feast. I share this with you to stress just how special it had become! Many prayed that with the intercession of St. John, they would have blessed homes, crops, and countries. It's truly amazing to know that by celebrating with our group of family and friends, we are passing down hundreds of years of elaborate customs to honor St. John. Streets used to be filled with people enjoying bonfires, food, water fights, and song, so that is what we will be doing, plus crickets! Well... I may not eat the crickets because I'm a big chicken, but I'm a very good cheerleader for Team Aquila.
The custom of bonfires began even earlier than the 6th century as a way to express the bright light that is St. John who pointed people to Christ out of sin and darkness. Many European cultures have them but I especially wanted to honor my Spanish/Mexican heritage which is known for their midsummer festivals and bonfires. While the tradition of gathering around a fire may be known to have pagan roots, the Church has in a sense baptized these customs, making them symbols and expressions of our faith. In fact, you could even invite a priest friend over to bless your bonfire!
Our friend, Father Joseph, was invited over and he blessed our food and fire.
P: Our help is in the name of the Lord. All: Who made heaven and earth.
P: The Lord be with you. All: May He also be with you.
Let us pray. Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord.
The fire is sprinkled with holy water; after which the clergy and the people sing the following Hymn:
Ut queant laxis
1. Ut queant laxis resonáre fibris Mira gestórum fámuli tuórum, Solve pollúti lábii reátum, Sancte Joánnes.
2. Núntius celso véniens Olýmpo Te patri magnum fore nascitúrum, Nomen, et vitae sériem geréndae Ordinae promit.
3. Ille promíssi dúbius supérni, Pérdidit promptae módulos loquélae: Sed reformásti genitus perémptae Organa vocis.
4. Ventris obstrúso récubans cubíli Sénseras Regem thálamo manéntem: Hinc parens nati méritis utérque Abdita pandit.
5. Sit decus Patri, genitaéque Proli et tibi, compare utriúsque virtus, Spíritus semper, Deus unus, omni Témporis aevo. Amen.
1. O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen; So by your children might your deeds of wonder Meetly be chanted.
2. Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending, Bears to your father promise of your greatness; How he shall name you, what your future story, Duly revealing.
3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent, Him for a season power of speech forsaketh, Till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth, Voice to the voiceless.
4. You, in your mother's womb all darkly cradled, Knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber, Whence the two parents, through their offspring's merits, Mysteries uttered.
5. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten, And to the Spirit, equal power possessing, One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages, Ever resounding. Amen.
P: There was a man sent from God. All: Whose name was John.
Let us pray. God, who by reason of the birth of blessed John have made this day praiseworthy, give your people the grace of spiritual joy, and keep the hearts of your faithful fixed on the way that leads to everlasting salvation; through Christ our Lord.
Prayer Source: Roman Ritual, The, Complete Edition by Philip T. Weller, S.T.D., The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, WI, 1964
In addition to that, I did some research to see what was customarily eaten on this Solemnity and found plenty of options. What's a bonfire birthday party without a feast? Here is a cultural menu for you to pick and choose from, the starred items are what we are doing.
**In Mexico, you would find chicken tamales and stuffed peppers on the menu. However, right now in Texas it's not really tamale season so we will be doing tacos instead.
**Latvia made this feast day a national holiday and families would open their homes to neighbors to share meats, bread, butter, honey, and sweet beer. This sounded so tasty to me and what immediately came to my mind was a charcuterie board so that, and beer, will be our contribution to the meal.
My cheese board included sweet cherries, blue cheese, brie, and cheddar with salami, prosciutto, and jalapeno jam! Not bad... not bad at all!
In Sweden, there would be salmon, potatoes, and a strawberry dessert on the table.
An old English tradition is to make soup for the occasion which apparently dates back centuries.
You could also try to make your own food tradition. Try something honey flavored in light of what was written about him in the Scriptures. Last year I tried my hand at a quick and easy weeknight struffoli.
If you really want to go all out and try new things, order some flavored crickets off of Amazon and have a little food challenge. What could go better with a Charcuterie board than a Bacon and Cheese Cricket? I mean really! If you have teens this would be the perfect time to get them involved in some silly, faith filled fun.
To go along with our cricket challenge we are going to have a water balloon fight and buckets of water to toss and play in. In Mexico, buckets of water would be thrown down the street and playfully at one another as an expression of joy at this hot summer festival. I don't care how old you are, a water balloon fight is just to hard to resist. You could always make that kid friendly by filling a small play pool, having a water gun fight, or even rolling out the slip-n-slide!
So now that I have shared what we are doing I think it's time for you to call your friends and invite them over. While all of this may sound like a lot, it is very easy to throw together and can be done with relative ease by pitching in together as a community.
And Happy Birthday to St. John the Baptist!
We pray for your intercession and ask that you prepare a way for us too as we follow Christ and strive for holiness.