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St. John’s Day is viewed as beginning of safe swimming

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June 22, Monday - Fred Astaire died, 1987. Anne M. Lindbergh born, 1906.

June 23, Tuesday - New Moon. Midsummer Eve. Rain tomorrow means a wet harvest. 122 degrees in Overton, Nev., 1954.June 24, Wednesday - Nativity of John the Baptist. Midsummer Day. Moon rides high.

June 25, Thursday - Custer's Last Stand, 1876. Massachusetts drought, 1749.

June 26, Friday - Financial panic began, 1893. Abner Doubleday born, 1819.

June 27, Saturday - President Truman ordered troops to Korea, 1950. First automobile seat belt law passed, Illinois, 1955.

June 28, Sunday - Cholera epidemic in New York City, 1852. Mel Brooks born, 1926.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Why is St. John's or Midsummer Day associated with safe swimming?

- D.B., Lewisburg, Tenn.

Answer: In some parts of the United States, St. John's Day is considered the marker for the commencement of safe swimming because the saint traditionally blesses the water at that time. To swim before then is to risk ill-health or bad luck. Many summer camp programs have children make small boats, fitted with candles and sometimes flowers, and launch them into a lake or stream as darkness falls. This is essentially a fire-and-water rite, taken from old Midsummer celebrations. Similar to New Year's traditions in our country, St. John's or Midsummer is considered a time to cleanse oneself of old behaviors or evils or bad luck, and enter the second half of the year purified and renewed. For some, it signals a renewal of reproductive powers, both of the earth and of the self. For others, it may be a sacred time for lovers, and the Midsummer divinations are often concerned with uncovering the identity of a future spouse.

Unlike most feast days, which are celebrated on the anniversary of the death of the saint - especially where the saint is venerated as a martyr - St. John's feast is celebrated on the date of his birth, June 24. St. John was sanctified before he was born, which may have something to do with it. (He was beheaded on August 29.) Because this saint's day falls so close to the summer solstice, many of the water-and-fire rituals which traditionally marked solstice celebrations became a part of the feast day, as well.

Bonfires, purification rituals, round dances and divinations are all a part of St. John's and Midsummer. The name, Midsummer, probably derives from the perception that June 24 is midway between planting and harvesting - thus, literally midsummer to the farmers.

Ask the Old Farmer's Almanac: Were whirligigs originally made as weather vanes?

- M.E.V., Dillsburg, Pa.

Answer: Not necessarily, although some may have functioned as weather vanes.

Whirligigs, named for their giddy, whirling motions, probably started as whittlers' amusements or possibly children's toys in their early forms. A child's windmill, jousting knight on horseback or pinwheel are other incarnations of the whirligig. Certainly, there are combinations of weather vanes and whirligigs, but form and function were not always joined.

Most historians today view the whirligig as an early example of folk art that has origins in almost every culture. Early American whirligigs from the 18th or 19th century often draw on German or English origins. You can find Hessian soldier figures, War of 1812 and Civil War soldiers and British soldiers, all in their appropriate costume. Pirates, police officers, sailors, sawyers, farmers and cyclists are also common.

Early weather vanes or weathercocks were more apt to have a rooster, goose or other bird or animal atop the pole. Some had no figure at all, only a simple pointer and perhaps the compass points or just "N" for North. Heraldry figures - the famous lion, for example, or various banner designs - were also common at one time. The Greeks are credited with the early invention of the weather vane, with the Romans following suit in the art.



Thes week with The Old Farmer's Almanac

June 22-28, 1998

New Moon, June 23.

Midsummer madness

June 24 marks Midsummer Day, traditionally a time of fire and water rituals. Fire, the Sun's symbol, is associated with many cleansing celebrations, so summer bonfires are popular. In New England, we burn the blueberry fields in hopes of renewing their bounty. Midsummer bonfires are similarly connected with renewal and fertility. In pagan rituals, the bonfires were considered necessary for purging evil. Special herbs or salt might be cast into the bonfires to ward off witches or bad luck. Summer camp celebrations feature wooden boats decorated with candles and flowers and launched onto a lake or stream.

Rituals have the power to reset the terms of our universe. . . .

- Margot Adler

Tip of the Week

Keep an "outgrown" box under children's beds. When it's full, pass it along!


1 red bell pepper, seeded

1 small cucumber, peeled and seeded

2 cups vegetable juice (such as V-8)

1 cup salsa

1/4 cup chicken broth

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 teaspoon cumin

Tabasco, to taste

salt and pepper, to taste

croutons (optional)

Chop vegetables into small pieces, then blend all ingredients in batches, aiming for a coarse puree. Refrigerate until well-chilled, at least 2 hours. (Best if made a day ahead, so flavors can combine.) Recipe can be doubled. Serve with croutons.

Makes 4 servings.

The Old Farmer's Weather Proverbs

If it rains on St. John's Eve (June 23), the filberts will be spoiled.

No crop before St. John's Day (June 24) is worthy of praising.

If wind rises at night, it will fall at daylight.

Dogs' tails straighten when rain is near.