This week’s theme from Debbie for One Word Sunday is NIGHT
County Mayo, West of Ireland, June 23rd, 2021
According to the bible, John the Baptist was born about 6 months before Jesus, so his feast day – St. John’s Day – was fixed for June 24th (6 months before Christmas). The night before – St. John’s Eve, was a traditional night for the Bonfire in the west of Ireland.
The roots of this tradition go back at least to the Celts whose fires burned on the summer solstice, honouring the goddess Áine – the Celtic equivalent of Aphrodite and Venus. The Irish for bonfire is Tine Cnámh (tine =fire / cnámh=bone) – old bones would have been burned on the night. With the arrival of Christianity, the Church replaced many pagan festivals, including this one, with new rituals, using the same dates to ease people into the new faith.
Children would collect material for the fire for days beforehand – indeed it was considered unlucky to refuse! The fire was lit at sunset and the proceedings began with prayers. It was customary to walk in the direction of the sun around the fire while asking for God’s blessing on the crops. Then the craic began – plenty of music and dancing. Young men showed off their bravery by leaping through the flames.
The fairies were known to be up to a lot of mischief on the night so individual fires were lit from the main bonfire and placed around people’s homes to keep the little people away!
Some time after midnight, those with newly built houses would take a shovel of embers so that the very first fire in their home would come from the ceremonial bonfire. On the following day, ashes from the extinct fire would be scattered on the fields to bring blessings on the crops.
While the custom has died out in many places, it’s still common to see fires dotting the countryside on St John’s Eve.
Link to One Word Sunday at Debbie’s here