2007-11-02

I Have a Bone to Pick With You.
In a rather convoluted way, I plan to relate today's post to one that I intended on posting on Halloween but never got around to it.

Happy Day of the Dead to all and for those of you in the know, that is a National Holiday in Mexico (and elsewhere) that celebrates and honours the lives of the deceased. Revelers of the Day of the Dead celebrate the continuation of life — believing not that death is the end, but rather the beginning of a new stage in life. And by the way, it has nothing to do with this Day of the Dead.

As an aside before I continue, Bones just came on the tube. We're in the midst of Season 2 over here, so nobody send me any spoilers for future episodes please.

I was asked about the origin of Trick or Treat the other day, and though I knew it had to do with poor people asking rich people for food in Ireland and other Celtic areas on All Hallow's Eve and if they were refused grub a trick was played on the stingy one's home. I also knew that All Hallow's Eve = Hallowe'en = the evening before Hallow's Day or All Saint's Day, which is the Christian revamp of Samhain. But I thought I'd dig deeper.



In my digging, I came across the meaning of the term "Bonfire", which I always assumed was French for "Good Fire". It so happens that Samhain is the name for the Celtic Lord of the Dead and Harvest-time. It is still the custom in some areas to set a place for the dead at the Samhain feast, and to tell tales of the ancestors on that night. (This is where it again gets a bit convoluted for today is also All Soul's Day which commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached heaven and which follows All Saint's Day.)

So let's get back to the term bonfire. Bonfire actually refers to "Bone Fire". On Samhain, all the cattle are slaughtered and preserved to feed the village over the long winter months. The bones are gathered together and heaped into a grandiose flame-party. Everyone extinguishes their household hearth and then relight it in the huge bone-fire. This communal fire then bonds the community together. (ps. I know the burning of the Wicker Man takes place at May Day, but it's a cool picture.)

If you scroll down here you'll find a few instances of Bonfires that take place in Sendai, such as a cool garbage burning flamer in January ( どんと祭裸参り = Donto sai hadaka mairi) where residents burn New Year's decorations and pray for prosperity. And in a lovely bit of sychronicity, there is a festival in the summer where people travel to their home towns and clean the gravesites of their ancestors. This just happens to be called 盆 or the BON Festival and a bonfire is often lit (see picture) and it ends with a cool ritual where paper lanterns are enflamed and floated down the river to help their ancestors' souls find their way.

I hope you had a Bonny Good Time reading this post (though I suspect most of you gave up long ago...)

 

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