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SOME FACTS AND HISTORY ABOUT ST. JEAN BAPTISTE DAY

Saint Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale) Information

 

Overview of St. Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale)

Saint Jean Baptiste Day, named Fete Nationale de Quebec is celebrated by French Canadians throughout all of Canada (and is an official holiday in the Province of Quebec). This holiday celebrates the St. Jean the Baptist who is the patron saint of French Canadians.  The holiday also celebrates the coming of summer.

 

History and Origin of St. Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale)

The origins of the holiday have its roots in early pagan celebrations brought over from Europe (mostly by Gauls in the area of France and Germany) to celebrate the summer with food and festivals (the date coincides with the pagan summer solstice celebrations (summer solstice = the longest period of daytime during the year).  In the middle of the fifth century, King Clovis (who became king at age 15), became a deeply religious ruler, tried to Christianize the holiday and infuse the celebration of the birth of John the Baptist into the celebration.  This coincided very well, since his birthday was June 24th.  The celebration became known as the Feast of Saint John the Baptist. [A more symbolic connection can also be made between John being the light of the world in his dissemination of Jesus Christ’s message and the celebration of the sun.]  The early celebrations included the lighting of bonfires in honor of Saint John [another symbolic link with light], and the king of France traditionally lighted a bonfire each year.  The lighting of bonfires is still a tradition today.

 

The traditions of the holiday made its way across the Atlantic Ocean by settlers in Canada. The celebration transformed itself into a holiday of cultural pride for the French Canadians (due to its connection with their French and not the English).  In 1908, Pope Pius X officially proclaimed Saint Jean Baptiste the Patron Saint of the French Canadians, which only added to the connection between this holy saint to French Canadians and the holiday.

 

The earliest celebration in Canada occurred in 1635 on the shores of the St. Lawrence River by French immigrants in the town of New France.  It was celebrated by a few dozen the fur trappers and traders who came there to trade. They sang songs and lit fires in celebration of St. Jean and the coming of summer (after a hard Canadian winter).  However, due to British rule during the next two centuries, many large celebrations were kept under wraps.  The next large celebration of the holiday did not occur until 1834, when Ludger Dunvernay, editor for the newspaper La Minerve called upon French Canadians to come together in unity.  He hosted his own large national “banquet” at the home of attorney John McDonnell (in Monteal), where some of the most prominent Canadians attended.  It then became a national tradition.  Dunvernay’s efforts also led to the creation of the Association Saint-Jean-Baptiste, an organization created for the unity of French Canadians – and helped to make St. Jean Baptiste Day a holiday.

  

The first official celebration in Canada was proclaimed in Quebec City in 1842.  It included bands playing patriotic music, a procession of celebrants and prayer.  Followed by the food and the lighting of bonfires in the evening.  The following year, they began hosting a parade.

 

In 1925, the legislature of Quebec declared June 24th to be an official holiday and renamed as la Fete Nationale. [Note: it is a paid holiday.]

 

In more recent years, the holiday has become more secularized and is celebrated as an “official” holiday in the mostly French-speaking province of Quebec.  The holiday is also called Fête Nationale du Quebec. The celebrations spread to other cities, such as Montreal, which recorded over 60 thousand tourists in 1874 to help celebrate the holiday in grand style.  The parades in Montreal became larger and larger as the years past by. [Note: the parades in the 1960’s became a sounding board for political statements by the French separatists. The parades were suspended from 1971 through 1989.]

 

Saint Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale) Celebrations and Traditions

Bonfires – Bonfires had their origins in the celebration of the summer solstice.  When the ancient ceremonies were Christianized, the practice of lighting bonfires remained as part of the new celebratory ritual.  In Canada, along the St. Lawrence, people would light fires along side the river.  There would be thousands of fires going at once as far as the eye could see.

Music – Music has always been a way of celebrating any holiday.  The early Canadian celebrations included many patriotic songs to be played by bands or sung by participants.  Each year, this tradition continues, with many large concerts (by some major entertainers) coinciding with the holiday.

Folkloric Dances – Dancing is a way of celebrating, and people dance on this holiday, with some dance troupes providing folkloric dances to remind people of the hard lives the early French settlers had when they first came to this new land.

Fireworks – Fireworks are many times lit in lieu of bonfires.  Large fireworks shows are held in the evening of this holiday all around Quebec.

St. Lawrence Rive Swim – In reminiscence of the first celebrations that took place along the St. Lawrence River in 1634, it has become customary to take the first swim of the year on the day of this holiday. [Note: many pools traditionally open up for the season on this date.]

Petis Pains Benits (Blessed Loaves of Bread) – This is a custom of making bread for the local priest.  The loaves were either in the form of a star to symbolize the birth of Jesus or a Heart to symbolize Jesus’s love

Ringing the Bells – Although not as common in modern days, they are used to bring the people together (i.e., both for gathering and for unity).

Parades – Parades became an early celebratory act, beginning with mass processions to church, then becoming large events unto themselves.


WEBSITES AND ARTICLES ABOUT ST. JEAN BAPTISTE DAY

St. Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale) Information, History and Origin

Celebrate Canada (St. Jean Baptiste Day) (PCH.GC.CA): Brief overview of the holiday.

Fête de la St.-Jean-Baptiste (AbHeritage.ca) : Brief history of the St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration.

Fete nationale du Quebec (TheFreeDictionary.com) : Origin an Information on this Canadian Holiday.

Fete nationale du Quebec (Biography.ms) : Information, history and origin of St. Jean Baptiste Day.

Fete Nationale du Quebec (FeteNationale.qc.ca) : The Official website of the Fete Nationale/St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration.

La Fete de la St-Jean (GenealogyForum.Rootsweb.com): History and origins of the holiday and its celebration.

Montreal: St. Jean Baptiste Day (VirtualTourist.com): Information for tourists who visit Montreal during this holiday.

St. Jean Baptiste Day (About.com): Information on the St. Jean Baptiste Day celebration and its religious significance.

St. Jean Baptiste Day (GlobalSeek.net): In depth information on the history and origins of this holiday.

St-Jean-Baptise Celebrations (TheCanadianEncyclopedia.com): An in-depth discussion of the holiday, its history and its origin.

St. Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale) Ecards

AmericanGreetings.com

BlueMountain.com

Other St. Jean Baptiste Day (Fête Nationale) Related Sites

St. Jean Baptiste Day Letter by Prime Minister (2004)

 

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