I always thought of bonfires as a way to celebrate an important victory in sports or as a campfire for roasting hot dogs and making S’mores. I did not know that the bonfire is also believed to keep evil spirits away.
On our way back to our apartment in Natal a few days ago, we saw bonfire after bonfire along the road among small communities as we drove a 20-mile stretch of highway. No one seemed to be attending the fires and no one was standing by the fires roasting hotdogs or creating S’mores over the hot flames. I kept thinking what a fire hazard each unattended glowing fire was.
We quickly began counting and saw over 400 bonfires during our drive back, many in Natal. We could not imagine why there were so many fires.
We did some checking with Brazilian friends and found out this night was the eve of St John the Baptist Day in Brazil. On this night each family builds a bonfire to ward off evil spirits—or simply as a tradition.
This experience demonstrated again that meaning is in people. A bonfire now has a new meaning for me to go along with celebrating activities and having a good time eating special “junk food” under the stars.
From now on I will probably think of the evil spirit meaning first and other more common uses of the bonfire second. Who knows? Maybe in all of my experiences with bonfires, I unknowingly was getting rid of evil spirits!