“Fire, fire burning bright, in the forest of the night …” is a lovely opening refrain which captures the imagination with the universally alluring image of fire. There’s something inherently appealing about a simple flame that is both primal and necessary in situations such as camp fires for cooking or keeping away the winter chill indoors. If you’re on a mission to experience community, local foods and drinks, and have a giant party in a new country, check out these fantastic bonfire festivals!
1. San Juan Festival, Andalucia, Spain
Held annually for several centuries, this incredible festival takes place on the most magical night of the year – the summer solstice, which occurs around 20 – 21 June, but the festival is held on the 23rd – 24th of June. It draws deeply on the tradition of strange and supernatural occurrences happening on the shortest night of the year, which usually herald change.
What better way to celebrate the festival of St John, than by enjoying the companionship of friends and family along with eating decadent foods and drinking rich drinks. Some superstitions are predominant on these nights, such as the belief that jumping over a bonfire three times will purify your soul; washing your hands and face three times at midnight will grant you three wishes; and burning ‘Judas Iscariot, the traitor’s doll’, is also said to bring good luck – though you’ll find nowadays, that the dolls represent more modern leaders.
2. Hogmanay, Biggar, Scotland
Held throughout Scotland, with games and events taking place, Hogmanay, their Yule / New Years is a great big party. Ancient traditions are honoured, such as first-footing (literally being the first person to set foot through a neighbour’s doorway on the start of New Year’s Day) as it is said to bring luck. While waiting for festivities to begin, modern times sees crowds entertained with fire dancers, drumming, fireworks displays, and the singing of Auld Lang Syne – first written by Robert Burns, and set to music at a later stage. At midnight on New Year’s Eve, the bonfire is lit and singing, dancing, drinking and music are enjoyed by all.
One of the top superstitious traditions is known as seining – and it takes place early on New Year’s morning in households across Scotland. In this process, water from a fjord crossed by both the living and dead is sprinkled and consumed by all who dwell in the building, and this magic water is even sprinkled on precious livestock and pets. After this, a fire is lit in the family hearth and juniper branches are inserted into it – when they’re blazing, a family member carries the smoky juniper branch throughout the household to purify it, and once everyone’s eyes are watering and they’re coughing, windows and doors are opened to let in the fresh clean New Year’s air.
3. Inti Raymi, Peru, South America
In honour of the sun god, Peruvians have held this week-long festival over the winter solstice for centuries, even taking it underground to continue in secret in 1572 when the Catholic Church declared it contrary to Catholic faith. It celebrates the event with traditional attire, bonfires, barbecues, floats, and pageants. Visitors come from around the world to celebrate this.
Re-enactments are done with actors portraying the coveted roles of Sapa Inca, and his wife Mama Occla. The 24th of June marks the day of Inti Raymi, and the chosen Sapa Inca then chants the Koricancha and asks for blessings of the sun in front of Santo Domingo church, which was built over a buried Sun Temple. Sapa Inca then leads the procession down the street, with his entourage of high priests and nobles. The party then ascends to the sacred alter, a white llama is sacrificed, and the heart removed for Pachamama, the earth mother, and read by priests in the hope of foretelling the future. When the sun sets, the bonfire is lit, and dances are done around them.
Author Bio: Roseanna McBain is a writer for Travelground.com. She enjoys reading up on myths and legends, attempting to create cuisines from around the world, and reading fantasy and sci-fi books.