European Bonfire Festivals

THE COMMENTARY GAZETTE

 

European custom of kindling bonfires on certain days of the year, dancing round them and leaping over them. Effigies are sometimes burnt in the fires.

All over Europe the peasants have been accustomed from time immemorial to kindle bonfires on certain days of the year, and to dance round or leap over them. Customs of this kind can be traced back on historical evidence to the Middle Ages, and their analogy to similar customs observed in antiquity goes with strong internal evidence to prove that their origin must be sought in a period long prior to the spread of Christianity. Indeed the earliest proof of their observance in Northern Europe is furnished by the attempts made by Christian synods in the eighth century to put them down as heathenish rites. Not uncommonly effigies are burned in these fires, or a pretence is made of burning a living person in them; and there are grounds for believing that anciently human beings were actually burned on these occasions. A general survey of the customs in question will bring out the traces of human sacrifice, and will serve at the same time to throw light on their meaning.

Seasons of the year at which the bonfires are lit

The seasons of the year when these bonfires are most commonly lit are spring and midsummer; but in some places they are kindled also at the end of autumn or during the course of the winter, particularly on Hallow E’en (the thirty-first of October), Christmas Day, and the Eve of Twelfth Day. We shall consider them in the order in which they occur in the calendar year……Read More

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