One of the largest festivals of the year was the Feast of St. John. It was a day that marked mid-summer. While all of the saints are celebrated at the date of their death or martyrdom, only Jesus and John are celebrated at their birth. This was due to the fact that Jesus’ birth was celebrated at the winter solstice. Some will say that this was to transplant pagan festivals, but in reality it was because his death and conception were all celebrated at Passover, which aligns with the vernal equinox.
The Gospel of Luke tells us that John, a cousin of Jesus, was born 6 months before Jesus. This allows John’s birthday to be tied to the solar year like Jesus. This is all the more fitting because in John 3:30, John says, “he must increase and I must decrease.” Therefore the shortening of days that begins at mid-summer is a symbol of our humanity getting out of the way, for the light of God to shine.
It is not surprising then that the day is primarily celebrated on the eve with a bonfire, like other major festivals. Each of the four solar days and the four quarter days, were celebrated with such a fire. Early monastic journals tell us that bones of animals where collected throughout the preceding season and burned as an offering of thanksgiving for life in a bone fire—eventually becoming the word bonfire. It was around a large fire where families and friends gathered to share stories of their faith and celebrate together. The Yule-log of Christmas, the Paschal-fire of Easter, the fire of Pentecost, and the Pyre of Halloween (All Saints) all have their origin in this practice.
We, of course, recommend having a bonfire for this Mid-summer nights dream. Gather family and friends to remember the forerunner of Jesus and talk about how we prepare the way for God to work in the world. John teaches us that this is mostly about getting out of the way—putting the ego aside and letting God shine through.
We are celebrating with kebabs. These simple treats are a great companion to bonfire. Friends can select their meats and vegetables and roast them over the fire themselves like hot dogs or they can be cooked on a grill. While today, metal or wood skewers are used, kebabs were often roasted on swords by traveling armies. The word kebab comes to us through the Arabic, but likely goes back to an ancient root from the cradle of civilization, from an Akkadian/Sumerian word, meaning to burn or char.
So light a bonfire, grill up some delicious meats, and celebrate with family and friends the setting of the sun and the dawn of a new season. Let us let St. John the Baptist show us the way.
Metal skewers (wood skewers can also be used, but will need to be soaked in water for 30 minutes to discourage burning)
Marinated meat of your choice such as beef (sirloin), pork (chop), chicken (thighs), or seafood (shrimp/salmon, work well)
Vegetables and Fruits of your choice such as bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash, onions, grape tomatoes, mushrooms, pineapple, mango, and peaches
- Select the meats, fruits, and vegetables of your choice.
- Cube the meat, fruits and veggies in to equal size pieces and place them on a metal skewer in a pattern of your choosing.
- Cook kebabs over high direct heat (such as open fire or grill) until meat is cooked through. Cook time will vary depending on the meat you choose.