May 1: St. Jeremiah’s Day in Macedonia

May 1 is a traditional day of celebration all over Europe, but the details of the party do tend to change quite a lot! In the Eastern churches, it’s not an important feast of Mary or Joseph. They celebrate St. Jeremiah’s Day. (In Western churches, it’s always been an optional feast, which tends to get celebrated more in monasteries and the like.)

But in Macedonia, people seem to have been particularly struck by the story of St. Jeremiah being lowered into the cistern full of snakes, because it’s a big anti-snake day. Legend in some places says that anybody who works in the field on St. Jeremiah’s Day will be snakebitten, so obviously work is not encouraged. Young girls are sent out barefoot to pick wild garlic, however, as a sovereign remedy against snakebite the rest of the year. In other villages, however, this is the day to go to work and plant cabbage, because young cabbage is supposed to look like snakeheads.

Also, every female member of the household gets up in the morning and goes through the house, the outbuildings, and the grounds in a procession, with pokers and tin capture boxes in hand. Loudly they warn the snakes and lizards that this is St. Jeremiah’s Day, and that they’ll be punished if caught. (Naturally, with all the racket and pounding, they don’t normally see any snakes or lizards.)

In some villages, the men walk nekkid in a body through the village at night, east to west, “chasing the dragon” of drought away by pounding on everything with sticks. (In most of the Oriental world, snakes and dragons are associated with water and rain. In Macedonia, snakes and dragons hold back clouds blowing into town and thus prevent rainfall.) The village men finish the night off by washing off together and then getting dressed; thus averting the wrath of the women at home.

This info comes from a very interesting webpage (in French) on Macedonian holidays in May. They do firewalking on Ss. Constantine and Helena’s Day, for instance.

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