More than 400 years ago the tradition to lighten solstice fires in the Danube region has been documented for the first time. The tradition was well looked after and preserved in the Wachau region more than anywhere else.
From the cult about the sun to an idyllic celebration
About the roots of the solstice celebrations which are known in many European countries until today there is only little knowledge but countless theories. If it really is a rest of an archaic cult about the sun from "Celts,Slavs and Teutons" which is the theory of most scientists it is neither to prove nor to deny. It is for certain that ritual fires where fought against by the church during the Middle Ages. The tradition was held up high so during the 13th century it came to a change. June 24th was declared feast of John the Baptist so now the strange cult got a Christian meaning by this solution.
The oldest sources mention that solstice celebrations took place in Lower Austria 1604 in "Rosenburg am Kamp" and 1609 in "Klosterneuburg". At the end of the 17th century they are proved nomerous throughout the country. The biggest celebrations took place in the Wachau and Nibelungengau area. In 1754 a general ban ended the fire magic for about a century. Because of several devastating fires it was an offense for the authority and during the Reconnaissance (Age of Enlightment) an unnecessary myth.
During the second half of the 19th century the celebrations came back and developed to lively public festivals. Now there was gastronomy in the surrounding area of the fire places, bands where playing and Johannis specialities such as mead, donuts, gingerbread and fried elderflowers where offerd at small stands. Also the traditional rituals became modern, not only burning wood and pitch barrels but also technology such as rockets and fireworks where responsible for blazing flames. At the same time the solstice celebrations in the Wachau became popular internationally by reports written by travelling journalists. Visitors were obviously very impressed by the multiple sparkle which was created by thousands of lights sent down the Danube in tiny boats. How much people got into poetic enthusiasm can be read about in archives or can be experienced soon directly on site in a beautiful and authentic way.