Frenchtown Rekindles Historic French-Canadian Holiday

With Missouri River flood waters lapping at the back of Frenchtown’s Eco Park as the St. Jean the Baptiste Day Picnic approached, Olympia Athletics offered to host the event. As an anticipated feature of the celebration, Olympia provided a bonfire as well.

Bolstered by free admission, vendors, live music, kids’ games and tasty food truck fare for sale by The Crooked Boot and St. LouisianaQ, the celebration drew Frenchtown residents and friends together to celebrate the midsummer solstice and honor St. Jean the Baptiste on his traditional feast day, June 24.

Marsha Adams, HFA President, delivers a speech on the historical significance of Saint Jean Baptiste Day.

Historic Frenchtown Association President Marsha Adams stepped to the podium to explain that Frenchtown’s connection to the holiday recognizes the French-Canadian founders who gave our city its original name, “Les Petite Côtes”.

“The name Saint Jean Baptiste, of course, refers to St. John the Baptist, the Christian saint and prophet whose feast day is celebrated on June 24. He was named the patron saint of French-speaking Canadians in 1908, but festivities surrounding his feast go back centuries before that.

A Saint Jean Baptiste Day pyre built in 1925.

“In ancient times, bonfires were lit to honor the summer solstice [the day with the longest period of sunlight of the year], on or about June 21st. With the spread of Christianity in ancient France in the Fifth Century, the focus shifted to honoring St. John the Baptist. Bonfires in the saint’s name were traditionally lit on the eve of June 24. Tonight we will light our bonfire and you may toss your worries or troubles into the flames.” Read more…

The evening’s festivities culminated in the lighting of the traditional bonfire, which roared as the crowd tossed pieces of paper listing woes and cares into the flames. Many Frenchtown hearts left the celebration lighter after relaxing to great music, connecting with friends, eating great food, and ultimately surrendering their burdens to the fire.

Portajohn (sponsored by Driftwood Music) was equipped with a door harp to keep patrons entertained.

We’d like to extend a special thanks to all our sponsors. Your donations and participation made this event a fantastic one!