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Why bonfires were a popular tradition on All Saints’ Eve

BONFIRE
Andrii Volgin | Shutterstock
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Catholics were known in England for their large fires around the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

Halloween and campfires often go together, normally with the sharing of “ghost stories.” Interestingly, the connection of fires and All Saints Eve (as well as All Souls Eve) has a long tradition, though for different reasons.

In England fires were lit on both nights, as one book written in 1888 explains, “There is a custom upon All Saints Eve of making a great fire” and similarly, “On All Saints Even they set up bonfires in every village.”

According to an English writer in 1783, “the custom prevailing among the Roman Catholics of lighting fires upon the hills on All Saints night, the Eve of All Souls, scarcely needs explaining: fire being, even among the Pagans, an emblem of immortality, and well calculated to typify the ascent of the soul to heaven.”

Bonfires were popular in many parts of the world at different times of the year. The most famous Catholic bonfire is that of St. John the Baptist’s feast day in June, for which there is even an official rite of blessing in which the priest offers prayers to God, connecting the symbolism of the fire to St. John the Baptist.

One of the prayers said by the priest focuses primarily on the symbolism of fire and its link to eternal life. This is the exact connection that Catholics in England had with bonfires around the feast of All Saints and All Souls and would be a fitting prayer to resurrect the next time someone has a Halloween campfire.

Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify + this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to you who are light eternal; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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