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JOURNAL OF THE ABRUZZO WORLD CLUB
Festa di San Giovanni Battista
The figure of St. John the Baptist took on many of the meanings of the ancient cults of water and the sun. His religious significance is connected to a rebirth through water, and in many places the day is celebrated with water immersion. June 24th follows almost immediately a moment of great astronomical significance: the summer solstice, when in the Northern hemisphere there is the longest day, and the warm season begins. It is the time of harvest and of Village Fairs.
The life of St John the Baptist
St. John the Baptist is the only saint for whom there are two calendar days, his birth is celebrated on 24 June, and his death on 29 August. The day in June was established when the early Christians wanted to oppose the Pagan festival of the Sun God: when the Virgin Mary, just after the annunciation, visited her cousin Elizabeth, the latter was already six months pregnant, therefore since Christ's nativity had been placed on 25 December, his cousin John's was established on June 24th.
The story of the Baptist is well-known to everybody. The son of Zechariah and Elizabeth, he lived for years in the deserts, eating locusts and honey. In 29 AD he appeared along the Jordan river preaching baptism as pardon of the sins and announcing the coming of the Messiah. Mark's Gospel tells that his arrest was ordered by Herod, whom he had accused of adultery, though the king did not have the courage to have him killed, until his wife Herodias convinces her beautiful daughter Salome to dance for her stepfather Herod, who had promised her whatever she wanted. Salomè asked the Baptist's head.
There are many traditions connected to the night of San Giovanni. In Rome youths used to gather before San Giovanni in Laterano and lit bonfires waiting for the arrival of the witches led by Herodias and Salome. The legend goes that Salomè, feeling sorry for the preacher's death, was covering his head with kisses and tears, when from John's mouth a powerful wind came out and drove her into the air, wandering in eternity.
In Northern Europe bonfires lit on the Eve of St. John's Day were deemed as purifying, and the dew, representing Salome's tears, was believed to be a fecundating force: on that night brides who wanted want children sat down on the grass humid with dew.
St John's Day comes on the summer solstice, which for the Babilonese represented the marriage between the Sun and the Moon, the goddess of waters, who was fecundated by the Sun.
San Giovanni is also the patron of water springs, and it is a custom on 24 June to eat snails, connected to the moon. The animal's horns bring strife, if you bury them into your stomach harmony will follow.
In ancient Rome on June 24 there was the feast of Fors Fortuna, the goddess of Chance. The people were forbidden to worship this goddess during the year, but on that day. The tradition is also recounted by Shakespeare in "A Midsummer's Night's Dream".
Traditions in Abruzzo
The night between June 23 and 24 is also the "witches' night": the witches are all over travelling to their annual congress. In Abruzzo there are dozens of tricks against them, such as take inside the children's clothes left to dry before darkness comes, or place corn ears behind the door. This is also a night of prodigies. In Celano women collect the dew with a non-metal object to heal eye problems or, more simply, to be desired.
St John's will also give auspice, and the Abruzzese ask their questions to egg whites or thistles. One egg white is poured into a transparent container and left to the night dew, then collected before sunrise: the forms discernible will give reply to our questions or predictions. The thistle is used instead for questions regarding love: on this night young people pick a card and burn the petals a little, then place it is a container outside the window. If the next days the leaves are green again, the love wish will be fulfilled. In Pianella and San Salvo two due thistles are slightly burned, one is kept inside and the other placed to the night dew: if the latter appears in better health in the morning, the girl will marry a foreigner.
Another common custom was for girls to place under their pillow three broad beans: one completely peeled, another just half- peeled, and a third non peeled one. On the morning of the 24th the girl would blindly choose one of the beans: if the peeled one, she would marry a poor man, if the half-peeled, her husband would be neither poor nor rich, if the non-peeled one the husband would be very rich.
Celebrations in Civitella Roveto
Celebrations in Bisegna and Trasacco
St. John's Fires