Published: 18-03-2010, 04:51

St. John’s Day

On December 27 the Christian calendar commemorates St. John the Evangelist, also called St. John the Divine. One of the twelve apostles of JESUS, John is known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.” Perhaps this explains why he was honored with a feast day that falls just two days after Christmas. Germans and Austrians observed the day with the blessing and drinking of wine. At an old ceremony known as the Johannissegen, Roman Catholic priests blessed wine brought in by parishioners. The people then took the wine home and toasted one another with it, saying, “Drink the love of St. John.” According to folklore, the blessed wine also bestowed health on all who drank it. For this reason even babies were encouraged to take a sip of the holy liquid on St. John’s Day. Folklore also claimed that the blessed wine warded off lightning, attracted a bountiful harvest, kept other wines from going sour, and banished many diseases.

St. John’s Day is one of three Christian festivals that follow in close succession upon Christmas. ST. STEPHEN’S DAY occurs on December 26, St. John’s Day on December 27, and HOLY INNOCENTS’ DAY on December 28. These commemorative days were established by the late fifth century. The figures they honor share two things in common. Stephen, John, and the Innocents all lived during the time of Christ and were martyred for him. In addition, Stephen, John, and the Innocents represent all the possible combinations of the distinction between martyrs of will and martyrs of deed. The children slaughtered at King HEROD’s command in BETHLEHEM did not choose their fate, but suffered it nonetheless, and so were considered martyrs in deed. St. John willingly risked death in his defense of the Christian faith, but did not suffer death, and so was considered a martyr of will. St. Stephen risked and suffered death for his faith, and thus became a martyr of will and deed.
By the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Europeans were celebrating St. John’s Day with the consumption of large quantities of wine, blessed and otherwise. These celebrations may have been inspired by a legend in which John was offered a cup of poisoned wine by a pagan priest. In some versions of the story John drinks the wine with no effect, in others he detects the poison before drinking it.