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Celebrating the Nativity of John the Baptist: A Fiery Feast and Water Wars

Updated: Jun 20

A slice of cake drizzled with honey.

The Nativity of John the Baptist is on June 24th so mark your calendars and get ready to celebrate! Also known as the Summer Christmas, Nativity of the Forerunner, or Johnmas (I love that one!), the Nativity of John the Baptist is the special day that we celebrate the birth of John the Baptist.

There is only one account of John the Baptist’s birth and that is found in the Gospel of Luke. John’s parents, Zechariah, a Jewish priest, and Elizabeth are old and without children. While Zechariah is in the temple offering incense, the Angel Gabriel appears to him and tells him that he and Elizabeth are to have a son and that they are to name him “John.” Zechariah, initially filled with disbelief, is struck mute until the day of John's birth. Meanwhile, his wife Elizabeth, previously barren, conceives and rejoices in God's favor.

The focus then shifts to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as Gabriel appears to her with the news of her miraculous conception. Upon learning that her relative Elizabeth is also expecting, Mary visits her. In an awe-inspiring moment, the unborn John leaps in Elizabeth's womb, filled with the Holy Spirit, acknowledging the presence of the unborn Savior within Mary.

Later, Elizabeth gives birth to a son. When it was time to name the child, Elizabeth said that his name was John. The neighbors and relatives move to name him after Zechariah, but Zechariah is given a tablet to write upon and agrees with Elizabeth that his name is to be John. At that moment, Zechariah’s speech is restored and he begins to praise God and prophesy his son's significant role in preparing the way for the Messiah.

This powerful account showcases God's intricate plan unfolding, intertwining the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus, as they play integral parts in the redemption of humanity.

The Nativity of John the Baptist used to be a huge feast day but is not celebrated much anymore which is such a shame. Jesus himself says in Matthew 11 that, “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist." He is the greatest of the prophets for he was chosen to prepare the way for our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The birth of John the Baptist was considered to be so important that the gospel author, Luke, wove his birth story with the birth story of Jesus.

Here are some cool things about the Nativity of John the Baptist:

There are only three times that the Church celebrates a person’s birthday: Jesus, Mary, and John the Baptist.

When Mary asked the angel Gabriel how it was possible that she would bear God’s son, Gabriel answered that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her and that her cousin Elizabeth was already six months pregnant with John. This is why the Church celebrates the birth of John the Baptist six months before we celebrate the birth of Jesus on Christmas Day.

The Nativity of John the Baptist takes place immediately after the summer solstice, marking the pinnacle of the year with the longest day. As the solstice passes, the days gradually shorten, emphasizing the profound words of John the Baptist himself: "He must increase, but I must decrease."

Ways to Celebrate:

Read the story of John the Baptist in Luke 1:5-25, 39-45, 57-80.

Light a bonfire. Tradition has it that Elizabeth lit a bonfire to announce the birth of her son. All over the world, Christians light "St. John's Fires" on mountains, hilltops, beaches, and backyards on the eve of his feast. In Ireland, the blessed ashes from the St. John’s Fires are sprinkled over the fields to ensure a good harvest.

Eat something made with honey. Since John the Baptist is known to have eaten locusts and wild honey, make something with honey or locusts or both! We choose honey! See the recipe for an easy-to-make and delicious Honey Cake.

Make things easy by celebrating with fire and s'mores using honey graham crackers.

Have a water fight. Since John the Baptist is known for baptizing those who repented, include water in your celebrations. In Mexico and the American Southwest, it’s traditional for Christians to attend morning church and then dip fully clothed in the nearest body of water. They would also playfully throw buckets of water at each other. Throw water balloons or have a water war with your kids.

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