Summer Solstice & St John’s Eve. A coincidence of timing?
The summer solstice seems generally to be rather understated, apart from the annual bun fight at Stonehenge that is, which seems strange given that like Christmas it is celebrated by both Christians and Pagans.The summer solstice seems generally to be rather understated, apart from the annual bun fight at Stonehenge that is, which seems strange given that like Christmas it is celebrated by both Christians and Pagans.
Pagans of course see Midsummer as the time when we are expecting the harvest, the time of abundance and reward for the hard work put in throughout the year. Indeed in Wiccan traditions the summer solstice is a time to celebrate the joining of the God and the Goddess and see their union and the force that drives, creates, the harvest fruits.
For Christians Saint John’s Eve, starting at sunset on 23 June, is the eve of celebration before the Feast Day of Saint John the Baptist an event very much tied into expectation of forthcoming events.
The Gospel of Luke (Luke 1,26–37 Luke 1:36, 56–57) states that John was born six months before Jesus; therefore, the feast of John the Baptist was fixed on 24 June, six months before Christmas according to the old Roman calculation (ante diem VIII Kalendas Iulias). This feast day is one of the very few saints’ days which commemorates the anniversary of the birth, rather than the death, of the saint being honoured.
So here we have a Christian festival, unusual in that it celebrates a saints birth and that is intrinsically tied up with expectations and look forward to the harvest, the harvest in this case being the birth and ministry of Christ.
Now there doesn’t seem to be any of the appropriation of the date from a pre existing Pagan tradition here, unlike many, or most, other Christian festivals so the question is why do they occur at the same time and have very similar theological ‘meanings’?
obviously one can simply stand back and say its all just a coincidence, but then personally I have never had much faith in coincidence. Or you could argue that there is a coincidence of theological logic that leads to picking Mid Summer as an important day in Christianity as Professor Éamonn Ó Carragáin, University College Cork does suggest that
“If Christ’s conception and birth took place on the ‘growing days’, it was fitting that John the Baptist’s should take place on the ‘lessening days’ (‘diebus decrescentibus’), for the Baptist himself had proclaimed that ‘he must increase; but I must decrease’ (John 3:30).”
Or is it, as I prefer to see it that Midsummer does indeed have a power, an essence, of its own. It is itself a ‘Thing’ In which case it would be only natural that many religions would gravitate to having rituals, special days and theologically important events on that day.