Q. What was the origin of the two great masonic festivals, held formerly on the 24th of June and 27th of December in each year?
A. The celebration of those days was purely astronomical in its origin, and refers to the summer and winter solstice. The summer solstice, on the 21st of June, was celebrated as a great solar festival by the ancients, because at that time the sun was exalted to the summit of the zodiacal arch, and attained his greatest power and glory. The arrival of the sun at the winter solstice in December and the commencement of his return north toward the vernal equinox was also celebrated in an appropriate manner. The sun was then considered (according to another allegory) to be new-born, and the moment of his emerging from the constellation which marked his lowest declination was celebrated as the hour of his nativity. At this period, says Macrobius, "the day being the shortest, the god seems to be but a feeble child." After that, he begins to grow, as some say, nourished by a goat, alluding to the constellation Capricorn, and the days begin to lengthen. The great festival of the new birth of the sun was therefore celebrated at this period. These festivals, originally observed on the days of the summer and winter solstices, came in time, owing to the variation of the calendar (as before explained), to be celebrated on the 24th of June and 27th of December instead of the 21st of those months. Modern masons, however, dedicated these days respectively to St. John the Baptist and St. John the Evangelist, who, it is alleged, were born the one at the summer and the other at the winter solstice, and were eminent patrons of Freemasonry. There is, however, no historical evidence to support this statement, and the celebration of these days by the fraternity generally has been very properly discontinued. 128
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