Weekend Mountain Blogging: Bergfeuer

My high school used to sponsor an annual bonfire somewhere during the football season. The fire roared, the cheerleaders cheered, we stood around and flirted and acted bored, and to be honest I remember wondering what on earth a bonfire was good for, anyway. Little did I know that bonfires go way, way, way back.

Bonfires have been lit to celebrate the solstices all over Europe since the Neolithic times. The Romans celebrated the summer solstice on June 24th, probably starting the night before. In Roman Catholic lore this night has become St. John’s Eve, the night before the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist, celebrating his birthday. Since Jesus’ birthday is December 25th (yeah, I know), and John’s is mentioned as being some 6 months prior, we get St. Johns Day on June 25. Of course they fit nicely around both solstices, and the Catholic holidays absorbed the fires in their customs, since the people were doing it anyway, had always done it, and were not about to stop because some priests who’d moved into the area were telling them to.

One of the rituals associated with the St. John’s bonfire is jumping over it for luck, or to “cleanse” yourself of sin, or test your courage, or just to get some spiritual thing in order for future farming success, fertility, or what have you.

In North Tirol, where we are, one practices the art of the Bergfeuer, or mountain fires. They are quite nice to look at but not easy for amateurs to photograph, even with a tripod. Once it gets dark enough to see the fires (and my camera settings lightened the sky more than it was here), you’ve only got about an hour before they start to burn down and go out.

In parts of Tirol the fires are connected to the church holiday of Herz Jesu (Sacred Heart) and are lit a few days earlier. The fire departments must all breathe a collective sigh of relief when it’s over. Of course they all have to be approved and are subject to all sorts of rules lest somebody starts a forest fire.

This entry was posted in Austria, culture, current events, holidays, Mountains, nature. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Weekend Mountain Blogging: Bergfeuer

  1. Andrew says:

    I’m too scared to jump over fires, but I have to say it sounds fun to watch. Also I can honestly say you’re the only opera singer blog I have found. That’s awesome. (I know this belongs in the about section, but I didn’t see a comment option there). Cool blog.

  2. Marcellina says:

    Thanks! You may like Jenny Rivera’s blog Trying To Remain Operational (see my blogroll) or Joyce DiDonato’s blog Yankee Diva. They are both incredible singers AND they write much more about opera than I do. Go figure, all the best bloggers are mezzos.­čÖé

  3. weltbeobachterin says:

    on the 29th of June there is also St. Peters Bonfire. at least in Upper Austria

  4. Marcellina says:

    Hmmm, interesting that it’s just 5 days later.

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