By Colleen Pressprich
In the course of the liturgical year, the Catholic Church celebrates only three birthdays. We celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25 and the birthday of his mother on September 8. The third birthday celebration is held this month, on June 24 - the feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. Traditionally, a saint’s feast day is celebrated on the anniversary of their death. For St. John the Baptist that feast is celebrated on August 29.
Who was John the Baptist?
John the Baptist was the cousin of Jesus. He was the son of Elizabeth and Zechariah, and the story of his miraculous birth is told in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke.
Upon hearing about Elizabeth’s pregnancy from the angel Gabriel, Mary went at once to visit her. When she arrived, John leaped in his mother’s womb, alerting her to the presence of Jesus in Mary’s.
John grew up to become the prophet Isaiah spoke of, the voice that cried out in the wilderness preparing the way of the Lord. His job was to get the people of Israel ready for the arrival of Jesus. To do this he preached repentance and baptized them in the Jordan River.
John died a martyr during the lifetime of Jesus.
Why do we celebrate his birthday?
Never eclipsing Christ and always pointing to Him, John’s unique role in Salvation History as the precursor to Jesus is the reason we celebrate his birthday. In fact, in Matthew 11:11, Jesus says “Truly I tell you, among those born of women no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist.”
Why is the Nativity of St. John the Baptist celebrated on June 24?
John’s birthday is always celebrated on June 24th because it’s six months before Christmas. When Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Christ, he also told her that Elizabeth was six months pregnant.
How can you celebrate the Nativity of St. John the Baptist at home?
This feast day can be such fun to celebrate as a family. Here are a few simple ways that you can honor this amazing saint.
- Read the account of his birth and talk about what your kids notice: John’s birth (and the events leading up to it) are included in the Gospel of Luke. Take a few moments to read from the family Bible and ask your kids what stands out to them. To take it further you could try a modified version of lectio divina as a family.
- Renew your baptismal promises: John was most well-known for baptizing the people of Israel. His birthday offers a wonderful opportunity to renew your baptismal promises as a family. Explaining what each promise means will help your children better understand their Catholic faith.
- Play in the water: With a late-June date, John’s birthday is perfect for playing in the water. Take advantage of the hot weather and take a swim, bust out the water table, or even give your kids a bubble bath.
- Bake a birthday cake: This one is my own children’s favorite activity. They love celebrating birthdays, and they love cake. I’ve found that a common activity offers the perfect opportunity to talk with my kids about faith.
Colleen Pressprich is the author of Marian Consecration for Families with Young Children and The Women Doctors of the Church. She is a homeschooling mom of five who lives with her family in Michigan.