St John’s festival / Winter solstice – celebrated in June
The celebration of St. John’s marks the end of the second term at Michael Mount. It is midwinter in South Africa during this time. The festival takes its name from John the Baptist, known as the prophet Yahya in the Quran. Catholic as well as the Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars placed the birth his on June 24, six months before Christmas. John the Baptist was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early first century AD. It is generally accepted that he baptised Jesus. He is revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Baha’I Faith and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these traditions, and is honoured as a saint in many Christian traditions.
John the Baptist called upon mankind to seek the light. Hence, the festival of St. John’s reminds us to cultivate inner light and warmth. All students, except for those in the High School, make lanterns – a symbol of the light. Traditionally a great bonfire is built around which the students and the community gather. When the flames die down, students, teachers and parents jump over the ashes to signify leaving behind past troubles. Hot, nourishing bowls of soup and fresh bread is served. It is a memory-filled festival for everyone involved.
Midwinter has been recognised as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age. The Winter solstice is the day with the shortest sunlight hours. An example of this is Stonehenge, an ancient megalithic site that is carefully aligned with the solstice sunrise and sunset.
In the Northern hemisphere, St. John’s festival in late June marks Midsummer in ancient cultures of the Northern hemisphere. Ancient peoples, watching the sun reach its high point at this time, lit bonfires to encourage it to ripen their crops. The Winter solstice is celebrated in late December when it is dark and cold.