Leonardo da Vinci, 1452-1519 St. John the Baptist Oil on wood

Customs for celebrating the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (1st. class feast)

On the Feast of St. John, it is customary to gather the perennial herb "St. John’s Wort" (Hypericum perforatum), named for our Saint. It’s long been seen as a means to keep evil away, and since medieval times, the herb has been hung over doors, windows and icons (its genus name — hypericum — means "above a picture")

In addition to gathering St. John’s wort, it’s also customary to gather flowers to make wreaths to wear and to hang in your home or, especially, on the front door. In some places, such as Poland, some of these wreaths are floated down the river in honor of Christ’s Baptism by St. John in the Jordan. Make a wreath of flowers that dry well, and hang in your home all year to be replaced next St. John’s Day. Alternatively, flowers can be tied together in bunches with beautiful ribbons and hanged upside-down to decorate your home all year.

The temporal focal point of the festivities, though, is the building of fires outdoors in which to burn worn out sacramentals and to serve as a symbol of the one Christ Himself called "a burning and shining light" (John 5:35).

After the blessing, a decade of the Rosary is prayed while walking sunwise — clockwise, not widdershins — around the fire, the old Sacramentals are reverently burned, and then the party begins.

As to foods, it’s customary to eat strawberries (Our Lady is said to accompany children who pick strawberries on this day). In addition, in Sweden pickled herring, boiled potatoes, sour cream, crisp bread, beer and schnapps are enjoyed, while in Spain they eat figs and a savory pie made with tuna. In Ireland, "goody" is another traditional food — white bread broken in pieces and boiled with milk, sugar, and spices in a great pot over the fire.

To get more ideas on how to celebrate today, go here.