Article by Melissa Kruse-Peeples, NS/S Education Coordinator, originally published June 22, 2016. Revised June 22, 2017.
The annual tradition of celebrating the onset of monsoon season in the Southwest begins with San Juan’s Day or Dia de San Juan on June 24. San Juan’s Day is the feast day for St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water. The monsoons are coming and soon the life giving water from the sky will bless our parched ground.
According to legend, Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez Coronado stood on the parched banks of the Santa Cruz River on June 24, 1540 and prayed to St. John the Baptist, the patron saint of water, for rain so the crops would grow. San Juan’s Day is linked to the natural cycles of the weather to help desert dwellers appreciate the rich heritage of agricultural traditions from the past.
The Monsoon season is the traditional planting time for many Sonoran desert farming peoples including the Tohono O’odham. They recognize the summer solstice as a time of renewal and a signal for planting tepary beans, squash, and com. The Christian calendar fits within the mid-summer traditions of monsoon celebrations. It is at this time of year when the coming of the monsoons is signaled by the ripening seeds of the mesquites and saguaros. The seeds not only provide sweet desert foods for humans but for hungry animals which scatter their seeds throughout the desert just in time for the abundant rainfall to soak into the soil and jump start germination.
A blend of tradition and Catholicism, Dia de San Juan is still celebrated, particularly in rural Sonora, Mexico. Celebrations include bathing or splashing of water accompanied by blessings. During the evening of the 24th, Tucson hosts an annual fiesta with a procession and music at the Mercado San Agustin. The celebrations are accompanied by a charreada, Mexican rodeo events.
You can celebrate Dia de San Juan by offering prayers and blessings for rain and taking part in a the continuation of centuries of farming traditions by planting a monsoon garden.