Feux de la Saint Jean – Summer Solstice – Midsummer

Feux de la Saint-Jean takes place on June 24, three days after the Summer Solstice.

This tradition dates back to Pagan times and originated most likely in Asia Minor.

The Celts introduced it to Western Europe several millennia ago.

Pagan folks lit bonfires on the evening before the Summer Solstice in honour of the Sun, to get its protection for the harvest to come.

Why 24th June?

The Summer Solstice occurs on June 21, so why do French celebrate on June 24?

Feux de la Saint Jean
Midsummer bonfire on the village square

Christianity became France’s official religion during the 5th century, and there was no question of allowing Pagan rites to survive!

Ancient traditions, however, were deeply rooted among rural folks.

The Church of Rome therefore moved the Pagan Summer Solstice celebration in order to coincide with St-John the Baptist Day.

This decision was ingenious, because both festivals carries the symbol of Light.

The pagan celebrates the Sun, the Christian the prophet John the Baptist who symbolically opened the door to the Light by announcing the coming of Jesus of Nazareth.

It was therefore quite easy to superimpose the two festivals.

How did our ancestors celebrate?

They lit a huge bonfire on the evening of June 23, with firewood and logs that young people begged from house to house during the week preceding the festival.

One of the most traditional rites was indeed for young unmarried people to jump over the bonfire, if they wanted to find their soul mate before the end of the year!

Feux de la Saint Jean
Midsummer bonfire

It was also a rite of passage and acceptance for younger teenagers, who then became officially accepted into the group of bachelors.

The games ended with the election of the King and Queen of Youth for the year to come.

The celebration of Feux de la Saint Jean was very popular until the French Revolution, then slowly sank into oblivion.

However, French people seem today quite happy to reconnect with ancient traditions and rediscover their roots and regional identity.

Les Feux de la Saint Jean – Summer Solstice celebrations are therefore more popular each year.

This shows particularly in rural areas, where life’s rhythm is still largely dictated by the passing of the seasons and weather.

The festival is a happy celebration, the celebration of Youth and Life that takes place at the peak of Summer.

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