Fire once symbolized June, the first hot summer month. Summer solstice, the longest day and the shortest night of the year was once one of the most important holidays of the entire year.
People celebrated the Sun as they gathered around bonfires on the eve of summer solstice. They danced, sang, and performed cleansing and fertility rituals through the night to welcome the rising of the sun the next morning.
Christianity altered the meaning and the purpose of the holiday, but elements of the ancient solstice festivities were maintained
June 24th became the feast day of St John the Baptist. Slovak folk honored the saint by attending Holy Mass, but in the evening, they celebrated in the old way - by lightening bonfires. These are called St John's bonfires.
Our forefathers and foremothers gathered around these bonfires to be together, to chant, to dance, and to purify and energize themselves by jumping over the special fire. St John’s night was and still is believed to be the best time to pick certain medicinal herbs, most importantly St John’s wort. It is said that it is at its strongest on this night. Until today, women set out to collect this and other herbs used in folk medicine on St John’s Day and night.