The Fires Of St. John

Janske Ohne

June 24, 2017

Allan Stevo

From the darkest days of December, nature grows lighter.  These darkest days were the time that our ancestors long ago feared the evil they believed wandered the world during the the longest nights of the year.  When Christianity emerged in Europe, these darkest days surrounding the winter solstice were adopted for a celebration of the birth of God’s son.

Once the December solstice has come, we know that the days ahead of us are only getting longer, the hours of darkness shorter until we reach a counterpoint in the year. That counterpoint is today, just after the summer solstice, in the midst of a time when all nature rejoices at the long, long day.   St. John’s Day or simply “Jan” is how this day is referred to in Slovak.  From this counterpoint, all the way up until Christmas, that tide will change and the days will only get shorter and the nights longer.

We will not feel it from day to day because the changes are so small, but the march toward winter’s death has begun, nature’s trend in the direction of life has ceased.  Soon there will no longer be light in the sky from 4 a.m. or after 10 p.m. in Slovakia.  Nature will begin its march toward days where light at 8 a.m. will be a blessing and overcast skies the norm before turning into pitch black before 5 p.m.

Each year, the first Friday after Jan, older children, teenagers, 20-somethings, maybe even a few 30-somethings, anyone who is young and unmarried, will climb a hill near their village, the same hill they climb each year, carrying wood up the hill with them and they will build that wood into a great bonfire.  When darkness falls it will be lit. It will burn late into the night. And all across the horizon others in other villages might be seen doing the same. Through the darkness little flares will suddenly appear and those that live there will be able to see that their friends in other villages along the valley and in the next valleys over are engaging in the same tradition.  This will happen tonight since Jan, June 24, falls on a Friday this year.

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Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.

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