Maine

Happy St. Jean Baptiste Day! Live Free and Eat Poutine!

Many Americans view Bastille Day as the big French holiday, but for Franco-Americans from Canada it’s St. Jean Baptiste Day on June 24.

st. jean baptisteThe holiday dates to medieval Europe, not coincidentally near the summer solstice. It started as a pagan celebration of midsummer. In the 6th century, the French king Clovis Christianized the holiday to celebrate the birth of St. John the Baptist, precursor of Christ and the light of the world. From then the French monarch would light huge bonfires on the night of June 23.

French Catholics continued to celebrate St. Jean Baptiste Day when they came to North America. A pious festival, it featured religious processions in the street. But the celebration lost its importance when the British conquered New France.

St. Jean Baptiste Day Revived

Then in 1834 a newspaper editor named Ludger Duvernay organized a grand patriotic banquet in Montreal on June 24. ‘O Canada’ was sung publicly for the first time at the 1880 St. Jean Baptiste banquet.

By the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th, St. Jean Baptiste Day featured processions in Montreal, Quebec City and Little Canadas in the United States. In 1930, for example, the Willimantic, Conn.,  L'Union de St. Jean Baptiste celebrated its 50th anniversary with a three-day festival in late June.

A carillon flag waved on St. Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec

A carillon flag waved on St. Jean Baptiste Day in Quebec

Today, Francophone New England celebrates St. Jean Baptiste Day with music, food and dance.

In Lewiston, Maine, for example, the Franco Center holds a FÊTE de Saint Jean Baptiste Concert: “It’s All About Love,” on the afternoon of June 24.

st. jean baptiste poutine

Manchester, with one of New England’s preeminent Little Canadas, has an entire Franco-American Day. As part of the celebration, the city staged Poutinefest – a competition among restaurants for the best poutine. For the uninitiated, it’s a traditional comfort food of French fries, cheese curds and gravy. The winner gets to raise the Ceinture de Championnat/Championship Belt.

Winooski, Vt., for the past 12 years has celebrated French Heritage Day. In 2018 the town will hold it in mid-July with music, food and a tourtiere contest. The Winooski Historical Society Museum and the Heritage Winooski Mill will also open.

Lowell, Mass., celebrates its Franco-American heritage with a week-long festival, Franco-American Week.   It includes French Masses, church suppers, a French Canadian documentary film, French music and bingo in French.

Rhode Island holds its French Heritage Festival in September in Woonsocket (click here), with a farmer’s market, arts and crafts, music and food.

Freemasons

St. John the Baptist is also one of the two patron saints of the Freemasons (St. John the Evangelist is the other). In Connecticut, Freemasons celebrate June 24 with a special dinner.

Photo: Poutine by Yuri Long from By Yuri Long, Arlington, Va., via Wikipedia. Carillon flag by C.P. Champion via Wikipedia. This story was updated in 2018. 

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Andrew Melillo

    June 24, 2017 at 11:20 pm

    This article ignores the fact that Freemasons Patron Saints are Saint John the Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist. Masons across the world celebrate this day….Acacia Lodge No. 85 in Greenwich, Connecticut just celebrated the occasion by a Table Lodge in the Old Knapp Tavern this very night.

  2. Pingback: How French-Canadian Textile Workers Came to New England - New England Historical Society

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