June 24 marks the birth of St. John, a Catholic celebration used to replace the indigenous celebrations of the winter solstice. The celebration has evolved strong pagan undertones that mix with Catholic traditions. It is steeped in folklore, religious and occult.
At midnight on June 23, the night of St. John begins, marking the beginning of several customs that mix Spanish Catholic beliefs, pagan rites, and traditions from Chile’s indigenous communities.
Through the years, numerous rituals have sprung up for when the clock strikes midnight. They range from learning the guitar to cutting deals with the devil.
History of the event
The date itself has its roots in the pagan holiday of Litha, which celebrated the start of summer and the longest day in the Northern Hemisphere (usually June 21). Separately, the Catholic Church decided to establish the birth of St. John the Baptist on June 24. Given their temporal proximity, however, the two dates were eventually melded together into a single celebration.
These celebrations, which continued well into the 1500s when the Spanish began colonizing South America, caused confusion in the Southern Hemisphere, where that point in June heralds the start of winter and the shortest day of the year and several indigenous communities use it as the start of the new year.
This geographical change also affected the celebrations themselves. While in the Northern Hemisphere the night of St. John is seen as a happy celebration of the coming summer, in the Southern Hemisphere it is in some ways seen as a dark night to beware.
Many of the rituals and legends that have evolved over the years still survive in rural communities in the south of Chile. Here are but a few:
- According to legend, if at midnight you sit below a fig tree with a guitar and place your hands on its strings, you will begin playing it automatically thanks to the devil’s influence. A similar story forbids you from looking in the mirror at midnight for fear the devil will appear and attempt to buy your soul.
- To predict the future, gather up three potatoes. One has to be completely peeled; the second, half peeled; and the last, left with all its skin intact. All three must then be put under a mattress before midnight; and, once the clock strikes 12, reach under the mattress and pull out a potato. If it has all its skin, it means good fortune in your future, but, if it is peeled, then bad luck will abound.
- Many of the traditions involve finding love. For example, if you are single, then right at midnight you have to immediately look out your window. The first person you see will be your partner.
- Another is that, right at midnight, you have to invite the first stranger you see on the street to join your festivities.
- Finally, there is a legend that if you spill ink on a sheet of paper, fold it, and leave it overnight, the paper will reveal a message for the person who spilled the ink.
Diego Rivera is currently a senior in University, finishing up his audiovisual degree. You can find him on Twitter as @Piover45.