The Baptist's day, midsummer day, was a general holiday, when everyone did indeed rejoice, a day full of games and sports and dancing. On the eve of the feast everyone's door "decorated with birch leaves, St. John's wort and white lilies and such-like, garnished upon with garlands of beautiful flowers, had also lamps of glass, with oil burning in them all the night.... Some hung out branches of iron, curiously wrought, containing hundreds of lamps lighted at once." On the
day itself, no sooner had the sun sunk than fires were lighted all over the hillsides, fires long known in the west country as blessing fires. To celebrate the Baptist with lights and flames was fitting enough, since it was John whom Christ himself described as "a burning and a shining light" in which the people were to rejoice.
These bonfires, often of immense height, were blessed by the priest, and often it was he who set light to them. While the fires blazed people danced and made joyful processions, holding burning torches in their hands; they sang together and played games by the light of the fire.
St. John's day might be the signal for a festive outdoor evening in a family or club. A bonfire can be lighted, there can be games and sports, while someone can tell briefly the story of the origin of St. John's fires.
The coming of the Baptist had been the sign that the Old Law was done away with. This abolition was symbolized, certainly somewhat crudely, by burning on the bonfires all rubbish and all unnecessary, useless and unwanted things in the house. For the many people who are terrified to dispose of anything in case they should ever need it in the future this would be an excellent custom to revive! In any case, in all homes rubbish of one sort or another accumulates, so why should we not dispose of it on a definite day, and in a ceremonial manner?
Source: A Candle is Lighted, Imprimatur 1945