Toasting the New Year with St. John

The ‘beloved disciple’s’ feast day was a time of blessing

During the holiday season, don’t let the only holiday meals be on Christmas and New Year’s. Try a family gathering on St. John’s Day: Dec. 27. (This year, the feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph takes precedence, but we can still remember John, son of Zebedee and brother of James, on that day.)

John was one of the Twelve Apostles and is also credited as being one of the Gospel writers. He is the only one to have written about the wedding feast at Cana and its miracle of changing water into wine. This miracle is considered part of the celebration of the Epiphany of the Lord, especially in Eastern-rite churches.

St. John clears poison from a chalice in this 15th century oil painting called “St. John the Evangelist and the Poisoned Cup,” by the Master of Saint Nicholas at the San Diego Museum of Art. (Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

It is also part of the reason John the Evangelist is linked to a blessed wine of the season known as “the Love of St. John” or “St. John’s Love.”

While St. John is often depicted with an eagle — his Gospel emblem — there are also images of him holding a chalice or goblet of wine from which a snake or dragon emerges. This comes from the tradition that, when John lived in Ephesus, he was given a chalice of poisoned wine. When he blessed the cup, a snake came out of it and the poison left the wine as well. This story is often linked to the promise of Jesus in Mark’s Gospel: “(I)f they drink any deadly thing, it will not harm them” (16:18).

Wine for the New Year

From this story came the tradition of having a cask of wine blessed at church each year on John’s feast day, Dec. 27. The wine was kept at home and used throughout the year for various reasons: for healing, to give to the dying and to use at family weddings to bless newly married couples.

In Eastern Europe, wine or cider was used. A little bit of the blessed wine was always added to any new bottle or keg whenever it was opened during the year. So people following this tradition had to be certain the blessed wine lasted the whole year.

On the feast of St. John, the wine or cider was poured into glasses for each family member. (One would guess only a drop was added to children’s drinks.)

Family blessing

The father of the house would then start the blessing by turning to his own bride, toasting her with his glass of wine or cider and saying, “I drink you the love of St. John.” The mother would reply, “I thank you for the love of St. John.” She would then turn to the oldest child and repeat the blessing. This toast would travel around the table until everyone had received it and blessed someone else in turn.

Another tradition of the day is to serve mulled wine, which reduces, though does not eliminate, the alcohol content. (Legally, in Germany, mulled wine contains 7% alcohol.)

With the chilly days of January ahead, a warm drink in honor of St. John, and the Lord’s love, should help warm anyone’s heart.

 

Sources: franciscanmedia.org; aleteia.org; catholiccuisine.blogspot.com; fisheaters.com; restoredtraditions.com; simplycatholic.com; tayloremarshall.com; germanwines.de; foodnetwork.com and ars.usda.gov.