Saint -Jean- Baptiste Day, held annually on June 24, is a national holiday in Quebec, Canada. On this day, soon after the summer solstice, the citizens of Canada gather to pay homage to the patron Saint of French Canada, and to celebrate their unique cultural and national spirit!
Saint- Jean- Baptiste Day, which is also know as “la Saint-Jean”, “St John the Baptist Day” and “Fête nationale du Québec”, claims early ties with pagan celebrations. Many believe the celebration was brought to France by the Gauls and to Canada from Europe. By the 5th century, King Clovis, the first of the Catholic Kings of France, christianized the holiday by marking the solstice as the time of the birth of John the Baptist, prophet and cousin to Jesus Christ.
The Celebrations – Old
From the time of Clovis, the holiday was religious in nature and was marked by lighting of bonfires. The bonfire would serve as a symbol of spiritual light. As French influence in the world grew, the celebration of Saint- Jean- Baptiste Day did also.
French colonists brought the practice to the new world. Just as Saint Patrick served as the patron saint of Ireland, Saint Jean served as patron saint for Canada. The very first celebration of was held along the banks of the Saint Lawrence River and included a great bonfire and several cannon rounds being fired. As Canada grew, celebrators continued the tradition of making bonfires and included songs and great food.
By the early 1800s, French Canadians began to consider the day part of their identity as citizens of the New World. Bigger celebrations occurred with the first official celebration in Quebec in 1842. During these times, patriotic songs, such as Oh Canada, became popular. Bonfires were central to the celebration, but church services and food festivals were added to the festivities.
In countries such as Norway, Sweden, and Finland, the holiday serves as a religious feast day. But, for Canadians, the holiday has a more patriotic character. Today, Saint- Jean- Baptiste Day is a grand occasion that includes music, folk dances, parades, banners, bonfires, flags, and fireworks as part of the custom. An annual swim of the Saint Lawrence River takes place. Folks will dine on everything from poutine and cheddar to pork tenderloin to benites to barbeque! .
Whether you call it la Saint-Jean”, “St John the Baptist Day” or “Fête nationale du Québec”, Saint -Jean- Baptiste Day is a wonderful time to celebrate cultural and national pride as well as the coming summer. It’s a holiday that honors the light that exist in the world.