The Festival of St. John the Evangelist

The Festival of St. John the Evangelist.

The Craftsman Dec 1866

All Christian nations celebrate Christmas time - the 
anniversary of the birth of Christ, the founder of the Christian 
religion and the object of its worship. Many curious 
ceremonies are practiced by the people of Northern Europe, 
on each recurrence of this festival time, the signification and 
origin of which are little thought of by those who partake in 
them. The bringing in of the great Yule Log wherewith to 
make the great Christmas fire. The elevation of the oak tree 
bough, intertwined with the slender branches of the 
mistletoe, in each house, forming the kissing bush, which, for 
the period of twelve days, reigns supreme, and requires from 
all who pass beneath it, whether man or maid, submission to 
the kissing ordeal or payment of a fine. These and many 
other Christmas customs of the old world, are associated 
very closely with the commemoration of this anniversary 
season, yet in themselves are so foreign to the occasion, or 
rather are so wanting in all suggestion of meaning as 
appertaining to this Christian festival, that it is not a little 
surprising that more do not ask whence come these strange 
and peculiar usages. They have no natural relation ship to 
the celebration of the anniversary of Christ's birth. There is 
but one answer to the inquiry here suggested, and that is, 
that these customs properly belong to the celebration of an 
anniversary season celebrated in the North of Europe for as 
many years before the birth of Christ as that time is previous 
to the present.

Two clays after Christmas comes the anniversary of the day 
given to St. John the Evangelist by the Church Calendar. 
Anciently this was the great Masonic Festival Day, latterly 
much neglected for  Saint John the Baptist's day, six months 
earlier in the year. The Evangelist's Day was observed as 
the great Masonic Festival time from the period of the middle 
ages, when the Masons in Europe, actuated by their conflict 
with the Moslems of the East, began to christianize their 
system by the adoption of Saint John as their patron Saint. 
Saint John the Baptist's day, on the other hand, did not rise 
to any note, even among Masons, until after the year 1720.

We have alluded to the Christmas customs in this 
connection, and for this purpose, namely, to claim that those 
customs belong with quite as much, if not more propriety to 
the Masonic anniversary of St. John the Evangelist on the 
27th of December. We do not claim that these customs 
partake of any relationship to the Evangelist more than to his 
Lord and Master. The customs to which we allude are 
associated with this period of the year, and refer to 
celebrations observed by Masons long before the days of St. 
John or Jesus Christ. Centuries before in the oak forests of 
Germany or Britain, the old time Druids and Druidesses 
presided over similar festivals. The conquering church 
adopted the customs of the period, and adapting them to 
their new religious systems, assigned to them a Christian 
name, but failed to give to them a Christian signification. The 
Masons, finding the St. John's day of the church occurred 
about the time when, for reasons having nothing to do with 
St. John the Evangelist, they had been in the habit of 
enjoying a festival season for ages, chose to call it St. John's 
day, and so observe it; until those who have inherited their 
Masonry, having overlooked the true Masonic reason for the 
celebration at this season of the year, have very generally 
ceased to celebrate it, even as the anniversary of one of 
their patron Saints.

We regard it as very much to be regretted that Masons fail to 
celebrate the day of the Evangelist St. John. It is a loss to 
Masonry. It is a surrender of an opportunity to direct the 
minds of the Fraternity to the origin of their Institution, 
antedating the times of Christ and the Evangelist, antedating 
the times of the ancient Druids, who in celebrating the great 
winter festival were merely commemorating a season which 
had been observed by men and Masons from the beginning.

"And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the 
heaven, to divide the day from the night; and let them be for 
signs and for seasons, and for days and years." As the sun 
ruled the day and the moon the night, so the moon marked 
the week of seven days and by its quartering the month of 
four weeks; so the sun measured the year, and the earth by 
its revolution and the eccentricity of its axis, pointed out the 
equinoxes and the solstices. Very much in Masonry has thus 
an astronomical origin. The moon has always been used to 
indicate by its quarterings the time for lodge meetings. And 
among all the nations of antiquity, the equinoxes and 
solstices were ever regarded as seasons of great 
importance. Especially in the ancient mysteries, was great 
stress laid upon the solstices, and the winter and summer 
solstice, the shortest day and the longest day of the year, 
commemorated with great ceremony. The well-known 
Masonic symbol, the point within a circle bounded by the two 
parallels - refers to this - the point, the sun, the centre of the 
solar system; the circle, the earth's orbit around the sun; the 
parallels, where they touch the circle, the winter and summer 
solstice, the limit of the sun's apparent course to the 
Northward and Southward of the Equator; the left hand 
perpendicular, Boaz or the Northern Pillar, the right hand 
perpendicular, Jachin, the Southern Pillar, standing in the 
porch of the Temple of the Lord, which is the Universe, while 
the Bible, as now placed in the symbol, or more properly in 
our opinion the sun, as the symbol of divinity, has its place in 
the Orient.

Just in the same manner as the Christmas celebration, and 
the Evangelist St. John's celebration, Masonically refer to 
seasons having an astronomical origin, so even do those 
celebrated pillars in front of Solomon's temple, although 
usually referred to the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire, 
which followed and preceded the Hebrews in the wilderness, 
- so even do these pillars refer to that older custom of 
erecting in front of temples one pillar to fire and another to 
the wind, in allusion to the solstices, in the one when the 
rays of Sol are most fiery, and in the other, when the winds 
of Boreas are most piercing and violent.

The summer solstice occurs about the twenty-first of June, 
near enough to the anniversary of St. John the Baptist to 
lead to the ready adoption by the middle age christianizing 
Masons of that day, in preference to the twenty-first. The 
Winter solstice occurs about the twenty-second of 
December, near enough to the day given by the Church to 
St. John the Evangelist, to induce the Masons to surrender 
to it their preference for the twenty-second. A day or two 
either way, it was thought, no doubt, made no essential 
difference. But a great mistake was committed. It cast adrift 
the Fraternity from the reverence for days and seasons of 
deep Masonic significance, and led them to the adoption of 
anniversaries which have no essential Masonic meaning. 
And during the present generation the entire neglect of the 
anniversary of St. John the Evangelist has led to the 
surrender of the Christmas festivities to the Church, which 
more properly and only legitimately belong to the 
Freemasons. Can this departure from old Masonic custom 
have gone so far as to render it altogether hopeless to 
expect that the great Masonic festival of the Winter solstice 
may ever be revived?