The people of Quebec join together on June 24th of each year to celebrate their Fete National (National holiday), Saint Jean Baptiste Day. This day is a public holiday in Quebec where government offices, post offices as well as most stores are closed. St. Jean Baptiste Day is celebrated with large public celebrations such as concerts, sports tournaments, parades and fireworks.
How did Saint Jean Baptiste Originate?
The event originated more than 2000 years ago, in pre-Christian Europe, as the pagan celebration of the summer solstice. It was originally held on the 21st, but with the arrival of Christianity, it transformed into Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, and moved to the 24th. The two events did have several things in common after all. Both celebrated the symbol of “light”; the sun of the summer solstice and Saint-Jean-Baptiste who opens the way for the light of Jesus-Christ. The ancients used to light a great bonfire on the evening of the 24th to honour the sun, a tradition that continued into the Middle Ages. Today, the holiday has lost its religious meaning but has kept its traditional name.
In 1834, Ludger Duvernay, a journalist of the time, visited the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations in Montreal. He was inspired to create a similar event for the French Canadians and in 1843 he established the Saint Jean Baptiste Society to promote the celebration of Saint Jean Baptiste. In 1925, the Québec legislature declared the 24th of June a national holiday.
One of the symbols of Saint Jean Baptiste Day is the fleur–de–lis and in 1948 Québec adopted their current flag as seen below. On St. Jean Baptiste Day many people choose to wear blue and white clothing to the celebrations to commemorate their Fete National, Quebec’s history, it’s heroes and it’s people.
At the end of the 70s, the Fête takes a political twist. Leaders of separatist parties join the festivities and the issue of Québec independence becomes central. More recently, after the 1995 referendum, the event adapts itself once more to the new realities of Québec. Members of Québec’s many ethnic groups join the celebrations and the Saint-Jean parade is now a wonderful mix of Caribbean music, of Scottish bagpipes and of traditional Québécois melodies.
Just like so many times in the past, this millennia-old celebration has evolved just like the people who’s unique identity it celebrates.