The Feast of St John
December 27 is the feast day of Saint John the Evangelist, the son of Zebedee, companion of Jesus and reputed author of the Fourth Gospel. In the Middle Ages the day was marked by a blessing of the wine, derived from the legend that John had drunk poisoned wine and not been harmed. As Barnaby Googe in the sixteenth century related:
Nexte John, the sonne of Zebedee
hath his appointed day,
Who once by cruell tyraunts will,
constrayned was they say
Strong poison up to drinke, therefore
the papistes doe beleeve
That whoso puts their trust in him,
no poyson them can greeve.
The wine beside that halowed is
in worship of his name,
The prestes doe give the people
that bring money for the same.
And after with the self same wine
are little manchets made
Agaynst the boysterous winter stormes
and sundrie such like trade.
The men upon this solemne day
do take this holy wine
To make them strong. So do the maydes
to make them faire and fine.
It was also a custom for people to bring wine or cider to the church on December 27 to be blessed and then to take this liquor home to be poured back in the barrels. This “St. John’s Wine” was considered a protection for travellers setting out on a journey or for those near death. Because the gospel of John proclaims Jesus as the light of the world, a German custom allowed children named John or Joan to be the first to light the Advent candle.