The custom of the Easter fire is of Germanic-pagan origin. The oldest written testimony is an exchange of letters between the missionary Boniface and Pope Zacharias from the year 751. This letter describes a custom known as 'ignis pachalis' (Passover fire). Since the question is raised of how to deal with it in the interests of the Church, it can be concluded that the Roman Church was not yet familiar with Easter bonfires, nor was it consecrated by fire.
At the beginning of the liturgy of the Easter vigil in the Catholic Church , a small fire is kindled, the Easter fire. After the congregation has gathered around the Easter fire, the priest lights the Easter candle by the fire , which is carried as light into the dark church after the consecration . The burning candle symbolizes Christ as the light of the world. Just as the Israelites once followed the pillar of fire through the desert, so the believers follow Jesus Christ on the path from death to life. The remains of the holy oils from the previous year are often burned in the Easter fire .
Customs in Germany
Easter fires are sometimes lit on Holy Saturday , in some places, especially in Westphalia , also only on the evening of Easter Sunday , cf. as an example of this tradition, Easter bonfires in Attendorn . In the customs of some regions, a doll or a tree trunk representing Judas Iscariot is burned in the Easter fire (→ Burning Judas ).
These are piles of wood piled as high as possible from tree and bush cuttings. In some places there is a straw witch doll at the top of the pile. The piles of wood are erected in fields or on the crest of a mountain so that they can be seen from afar. The custom is particularly common in rural areas, where the villages compete for the highest fire and guard the piles of wood on the nights before Easter. On Holy Saturday, people meet for beer or mulled wine and a delicacy from the grill. During this convivial round, a competition flares up in some areas of Brandenburg, with money stakes for the public purpose, e.g. B. the fire brigade fund, on the time of burning or twisting a birch set up in a pile of wood. The Easter bonfires along the Lower Elbe attract many onlookers.
In the Harz Mountains , the fires are called Easter piles, they are piled up from brushwood and spruce green, on top of which there is a large spruce. In North Friesland , especially on the North Frisian Islands , people know the custom of burning the Biike on February 21st. In the Fuldaer Land there is a similar custom of the Hutzel fire on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday . Ostfriesland, on the other hand, knows the Easter fire, which is burned down on Easter vigil. In the southern and western Eifel, as well as in eastern Luxembourg and in eastern Belgium, the hut burning or castle burning is held on the first Sunday of Lent .
So-called Easter brandies are common in Bavaria . There the candle is lit with the Easter fire and the embers for the censer are produced. The children charcoal fresh, arm-thick, sharpened and one meter long birch wood in the fire. Then they are pulled out of the fire and extinguished in water. These Easter fires should be put in the attic and, according to old popular belief, protect them from lightning strikes. If there was no child of the appropriate age, one of the neighboring children was commissioned for a fee in the form of ham and eggs. Eighty years ago it was customary for everyone to attend the Easter Vigil service. Therefore, mostly only the assigned children were present at the Easter fire, who had to buy an Easter fire.
Since the piles of wood are collected over many weeks, small animals often hide there and have to be chased away before lighting. Conservationists therefore warn of Easter fires. A good solution is to rearrange the pile of wood before igniting. In many places today, Easter bonfires require a permit. Some tree cuttings are also burned, which cannot be composted due to insect infestation. Here incineration is even the more environmentally friendly way to dispose of this material. In Westphalia, too, the Christmas trees are often collected by various youth associations after Epiphany and also burned.
Sometimes the stacks of wood that have already been built up for the Easter fire are ignited prematurely by unauthorized persons. In 1982 this led to five young people in Hohnstedt who had set up a sleeping cave in the Easter fire pile to burn. To prevent such occurrences, many fireplaces are guarded or cordoned off.
Easter fires do not aim to burn waste, but rather to maintain customs. They are therefore not subject to any regulation on the disposal of vegetable waste by incineration outside of waste disposal facilities .
Easter fires are problematic because of their smoke development and with regard to the endangerment of small animals. They can therefore be subject to approval under state pollution control law, for example in North Rhine-Westphalia under Section 7 LImschG.
Customs in Austria
In large parts of Austria , the Easter fire on Easter Vigil is a popular custom. In the Alpine region in particular , the Easter bonfire has long been an integral part of the Easter Vigil. Wood fires, some meters high, are lit on the mountain slopes or in the valley. Mostly these consist of garden clippings and many a Christmas tree, but also artfully stacked fires can be observed. The fires are usually lit after attending the Resurrection Mass or after the family Easter celebration in good company.
Since the density of Easter fires is often very high in the Eastern Alps - 10 Easter fires are not uncommon in small towns - there is usually a thick smog cloud over the valleys on Easter Sunday. The announcement that from 2007 onwards an Easter bonfire in the fine dust-plagued state capital Graz and the surrounding area would only be permitted if it was registered as a traditional event caused a stir .
In April 2011 a new law was passed in this regard. This states that traditional fires of any kind are prohibited in Graz all year round without exception. Municipalities in the immediate vicinity of Graz are allowed one traditional fire per location, provided this has been officially reported and approved in good time.
In the rest of Styria, private individuals are also allowed to light traditional fires; Fires for small regional customs are also allowed. However, these fires must also be reported to the competent authority. In many places in Carinthia, Easter fires were banned in 2012 due to severe drought.
- Easter fire - deadly danger to birds. In: wildvogelhilfe.org
- Richard Wolfram: Die Jahresfeuer , publications of the commission for the folklore atlas in Austria, Vienna 1972.
- Theodor Schieffer: Winfrid-Bonifatius and the Christian foundation of Europe , Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft Darmstadt, 1980, ISBN 3-534-06065-2 .
- www.erzabtei-beuron.de: Light celebration .
- Heimbach: A special custom in Heimbach - the church is only lit up when the bell rings. In: www.donaukurier.de . Retrieved April 18, 2017 .
- www.suehnekreuz.de: Hohnstedt .
- cf. Ministry for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature and Consumer Protection of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia : Leaflet on the disposal of vegetable waste outside of waste disposal facilities Status: October 2, 2012, p. 6 (PDF; 28.82 kB).
- Combustion of biogenic materials , website of the city of Ibbenbüren , accessed on December 21, 2018.
- Easter fire poses deadly danger to animals , Hamburger Tierschutzverein, April 10, 2017.
- Law on protection against air pollution, noise and similar environmental impacts (State Immission Control Act - LImschG) of March 18, 1975.
- Prohibition or restriction of traditional fires in Styria. In: Environment.steiermark.at .
- Ban on Easter fires in Carinthia due to drought. In: kaernten.orf.at .