St. John the Baptist is highly unusual among the saints: He’s the only person besides Mary and Jesus whose birthday is celebrated instead of his day of death. That’s because he was “filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15) and Jesus said that “among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John” the Baptist (Matthew 11:11-16). Christians have traditionally honored his feast day on June 24 with distinctive customs.
The Nativity of John the Baptist coincides with the feast of Midsummer, or the Summer Solstice. Some believe this is because Church leaders wanted to “Christianize” a pagan feast, but most likely it is because his birthday falls six months before Christ’s birth.
There is great theological significance to St. John’s birth coinciding with the summer solstice: Christ is the “light of the world” (John 8:12) and John famously said of Christ, “He must increase; I must decrease” (John 3:30). After this feast, the days get progressively shorter until Christ’s birth, when they begin to get longer again.
The birth of St. John the Baptist was a high holy day for much of Church history. It was called “the summer Christmas”, and Christians marked the day with festivals, parades, and many other celebrations. These customs have fallen by the wayside in some places, but they remain a beautiful way to celebrate this special feast.
If you’d like to observe the feast of St. John the Baptist in the traditional way, check out the 5 suggestions in the slideshow below. Each one is rich in meaning and truly honors Christ through his cousin, St. John. Enjoy celebrating the summer Christmas!