Thursday, December 27, 2007

St John's Day

St John's wine is blessed today. The story goes that someone tried to murder St John the Apostle with some poisoned wine but it did him no harm. So wine is blessed in his honour, and according to this site, some sugar or other spices can be added to make a punch for the family.

Mr Miles, however, in his "Christmas in Ritual and Tradition" is being something of a killjoy on this one. Herewith his entire section on St John's Day:

An ecclesiastical adaptation of a pagan practice may be seen in the Johannissegen customary on St. John's Day in many parts of Catholic Germany and Austria. A quantity of wine is brought to church to be blessed by the priest after Mass, and is taken away by the people to be drunk at home. There are many popular beliefs about the magical powers of this wine, beliefs which can be traced back through at least four centuries. In Tyrol and Bavaria it is supposed to protect its drinker from being struck by lightning, in the Rhenish Palatinate it is drunk in order that the other wine a man possesses may be kept from injury, or that next year's harvest may be good. In Nassau, Carinthia, and other regions some is poured into the wine-casks to preserve the precious drink from harm, while in Bavaria some is kept for use as medicine in sickness. In Syria [sic; surely he means "Styria"?] St. John's wine is said to keep the body sound and healthy, and on this day even babes in the cradle are made to join in the family drinking.

It appears that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries there was a great drinking on St. John's Day of ordinary, as well as consecrated, wine, often to excess, and scholars of that time seriously believed that Weihnacht, the German name for Christmas, should properly be spelt Weinnacht. The Johannissegen, or Johannisminne as it was sometimes called, seems, all things considered, to be a survival of an old wine sacrifice like the Martinsminne. That it does not owe its origin to the legend about the cup of poison drunk by St. John is shown by the fact that a similar custom was in old times practised in Germany and Sweden on St. Stephen's Day.

Hmmpf. Well, I don't think it's shown by that at all. Nevertheless, kind of interesting.