Local girls in traditional dress prepare for a long time.
photo: Jozef Fašanga
Called "jánske" or "svätojánske ohne" (John's or St John's Fires - with the spread of Christianity the day became celebrated as the day of St John the Baptist and the nearby holiday of solstice was moved to that date), it was believed that whoever jumped over the fires were strong and healthy. A couple jumping over it while holding hands was destined to end up in marriage sooner or later.
People also believed in an increased power of witches and magic on the day of Svätý Ján; women often helped themselves with various tricks to attract a potential lover. Herbs, when collected before the dawn that day, allegedly had increased healing power.
Hearing of the sexual freedom at the celebrations, the Church became angered and banned the bonfires. Nonetheless, the tradition has survived until the present.
The whole village of Podzámčok, located some 10 kilometres from Zvolen, is preparing for the upcoming celebration. Cakes and pastries are baked, folk costumes are cleaned and repaired, and folk ensembles rehearse the final steps of their dances.
The two-day feast Na Svätého Jána, which this year was moved to Saturday, June 26, presents the folk customs and traditions of the region. Apart from celebrating the holiday of Svätý Ján, visitors to the event can also experience the traditional wedding customs with a wedding feast and a dance open to the public.
Entering its 10th year, the festival's popularity has spread to surrounding villages. The local folk ensembles are being joined not only by ensembles from other municipalities but also from abroad - this year welcoming the ensemble Rozmarín Venarez from Hungary.
The Jánska vatra (bonfire) will open the night of fires at 21:00 in the area under Podzámčok's castle. The folk groups will then perform traditional songs and dances.
According to the organisers, the entertainment at the castle is primarily for the eyes. However, those hungry to join the performers and their local traditions can do so at the wedding ceremony, which starts earlier that day at 17:00 at the local culture house.
Wedding guests dressed in traditional customs will invite spectators to join the young couple in singing, dancing, and feasting. At 22:00, a large dance party will take place.
The next day, June 27, will begin with the Ceremonial Saint Mass at the Roman-Catholic Church of John the Baptist, devlivered by Archbishop Monsignor Ján Sokol at 10:30.
At 14:00, folk ensembles dressed in traditional costumes will run through the village, culminating at the Amphitheatre under the Castle, where they will hold a dance programme.
The village of Podzámčok is located some 10 kilometres south of Zvolen, in the direction of Krupina. For more information on the festival contact the municipal office at 045/5387-151.