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Scottish National Dictionary (1700–)

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First published 1960 (SND Vol. V). Includes material from the 1976 supplement.
This entry has not been updated since then but may contain minor corrections and revisions.

JOHNSMAS, n. Also John's Mass. St John the Baptist's day, 24th June, Midsummer Day (Sh. 1914 Angus Gl.), still celebrated in Sh. and Ork. though obsol. Sh.1750 J. Campbell White Herring Fishery 25: 
The Beginning of June, when their Fair or Mart with the Dutch begins, which they call the Johnsmas Fair.
Sh. 1774 G. Low Tour (1879) 82:
Their Festivals are Christmas, Newyearsday, Uphaliday . . . Johnsmass . . . etc.
Sh. 1899 J. Spence Folk-Lore 188:
During the season the crew of a haf boat had three feasts, viz: the Doon-drawin' at Beltane; the Johnsmas at Midsummer, when they supped the “milgruel kits”; and the Foy at Lammas, when the fishing closed.
Ork. 1911 J. Omond 80 Years Ago 10:
Johnsmas . . . was bonfire night, five weeks before Lammas. . . . The bonfires were lighted in the darkening . . . to drive away the trows and fairies.
Sh.10 1958:
The Johnsmas itself was usually held in a barn, very unobtrusively supervised by the owner thereof. The boys were on their own for two or three days and prepared their own meals except for cooking. It was a sort of camping-out. Every evening they went with pails collecting milk from neighbours for a supper of milgruel. The highlight was a Johnsmas Fire which had to be burned in the hill and made of moss and lasted for an afternoon and evening.

Hence (1) Johnsmas(s) flooer, -girs, -pairs, the ribwort plantain, Plantago lanceolata (Sh. 1908 Jak. (1928), Sh. 1959); (2) Johnsmas foy, a celebration held on St John's Day, which gen. coincided with the arrival of the Dutch herring fleet in Lerwick harbour. See Foy.Sh. 1898 J. Burgess Tang 41:
They had begun to look for “Johnsmas Flooers.” They were each choosing the best two bits of ribwort they could find, for it was St John's Eve.
Sh. 1920 J. Nicholson Folk-Tales 80:
In the month of June came Johnsmas, when the fair maids would hold a “banquet”, as such a gathering was termed, and “lay up” the Johnsmas flooers. Two bits of ribwort were selected; one stalk was short, and represented the girl, the other slightly longer, was her sweetheart. From both of these the florets were removed, and the twain carefully rolled in a dock leaf and buried in the ground. Next morning they were unearthed, and if it were found that the florets had reappeared on both, it was regarded as a happy sign indeed.
(2) Sh. 1898 Shetland News (11 June):
The Johnsmas Foys of the annual foreign invaders [Dutch fishermen].

[O.N. Jónsmessa, Midsummer Day, 24th June. Cf. Candlemas, Lammas.]

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"Johnsmas n.". Dictionary of the Scots Language. 2004. Scottish Language Dictionaries Ltd. Accessed 1 Dec 2023 <>



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