St. John the Baptist Day

In Quebec, St. John the Baptist day is celebrated on June 24th every year. The origin of this tradition goes back to the pre-Christianity era when many European peoples celebrated the summer solstice by lighting fires and dancing around them. Until now this day has been celebrated with fires, dances and songs in a large number of European countries.

As per the Relations and the Journal des Jesuites this tradition becomes established in New France in 1646 (other sources mention 1636): «on June 23rd the St. John fire was lit at height thirty in the evening…

Cannons were fired five times and muskets, two or three times». As per a legend, St. John the Baptist was chosen as the protector of French Canadians at the time when the Saint-Jean-Baptiste Society was created Ludger Duvernay because many French Canadians had this first name. M. Duvernay announced the creation of Saint-Jean-Baptiste Club (that became Society at the beginning of the 20th century) on June 24th ,1834. In the 1840s this annual holiday becomes popular and spreads everywhere in Québec.

The first official celebration in Quebec city takes place in 1842. A solemn procession heads for the cathedral singing patriotic airs. In Montréal the first parade is organized in 1843.

Later on, solemn masses start being celebrated in parishes. In 1874 the celebration of this day is exceptional as more than 60 000 visitors from different regions of Quebec and other parts of North America celebrate the 40th anniversary of St. John Club in Montreal  and participate in a big national convention of French Canadians. Allegorical floats appear for the first time and more than 30 orchestras participate in a parade.

The mass is sung at Notre-Dame Cathedral. Parades become larger every year and a particular theme is chosen for each celebration. Since the 1970s, many regions, cities and villages organize their own activities that are largely secularized.In Montreal, the major festivities take place in Maisonneuve park.

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