Sankthans, jonsok, jonsmesse, jons vake or johannesvake is a church holiday to commemorate the birth of John the Baptist. The day is celebrated on June 24.
The day was a public holiday in Norway until 1770.
"Sankthans" is named after the Baptist Johannes' Danish saint name, Sankt Hans. "Jonsok" comes from jónsvaka, which is Norse and means "vigil for Jon", where Jon is an abbreviation for Johannes.
In Norway, Sankthans is associated with a traditional, pagan celebration of the summer solstice and midsummer. Especially St. John's Eve is celebrated as a popular, non-religious summer party on the evening of June 23, in many places with large bonfires if the weather allows it. Midsummer is celebrated in a similar way in several places in Europe, including the midsummer weekend in Sweden. Bonfires to drive away evil spirits must have roots back to the 5th century, when church and pagan traditions were merged in one and the same folk festival.
The evening of June 23, Midsummer's Eve, is the vigil celebration before the feast day of John the Baptist. According to the Gospel of Luke, John was born six months before Jesus (compare the angel's words to the Virgin Mary at the announcement). The feast day is therefore set for June 24, six months before Christ's birthday party (Christmas).
And listen: Your relative Elizabeth is expecting a son, she too, in her old age. She, who they said could not have children, is already in her sixth month. ... Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months. Then she returned home. The time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she had a son (Luke 1: 56-57). This celebration is one of quite a few that takes place on a weekend's probable birthday - otherwise it is the day of death that is celebrated. The commemoration of John the Baptist's death on August 29, which is also a church memorial day, is not a liturgical main celebration.
The religious motif of the celebration can be summarized with an excerpt of the Catholic prefecture prescribed for the party:
We praise the greatness of your [God] as we see in Blessed John, who became the forerunner of Christ and was honored above all who were born of a woman. In his mother's life he rejoiced in the coming of the Savior; at his birth he brought great joy, and as the only one of the prophets he designated the Lamb of God, who gives us redemption. In the Jordan River he baptized the originator of baptism, and thus he made this water holy. By his bloody death he had to bear the highest testimony of Christ. The day was a public holiday in Norway until 1770, when it was abolished by the reduction of feast days. It is still marked as a day of remembrance in the Catholic Church. After the day was no longer a public holiday. In many places it was considered a dot day, a "half-holiday" when the servants should have time off and as little as possible should be done.
Folk midsummer party
The Sankthans celebration is often described as originating from old pre-Christian midsummer traditions. Rather, it refers to the bare (a pagan sacrificial feast) that our Norse ancestors held 28 days (four seven-day weeks) after the summer solstice, that is, about a month after Sankthans. The popular celebration has traditionally involved games, dancing and drunkenness. From the Reformation in the 16th century, however, the church and the authorities persistently opposed what they considered an immoral celebration. The tradition was weakened in countries such as Denmark-Norway and the United Kingdom, but remained better in Sweden, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. There, non-Christian pure summer solstice customs are more prominent; in Sweden and Finland, it is traditionally only Christmas that is a more important celebration period than the celebration of midsummer and juhannus.
Similar traditions linking midsummer celebrations with John the Baptist, often by bonfire, are found throughout Northern Europe, Britain, and Ireland:
Norway: Sankthans / Jonsok