Balder the Beautiful, Volume I. eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 545 pages of information about Balder the Beautiful, Volume I..

[Custom of kindling bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent in the Belgian Ardennes.]

The custom of kindling bonfires on the first Sunday in Lent has prevailed in Belgium, the north of France, and many parts of Germany.  Thus in the Belgian Ardennes for a week or a fortnight before the “day of the great fire,” as it is called, children go about from farm to farm collecting fuel.  At Grand Halleux any one who refuses their request is pursued next day by the children, who try to blacken his face with the ashes of the extinct fire.  When the day has come, they cut down bushes, especially juniper and broom, and in the evening great bonfires blaze on all the heights.  It is a common saying that seven bonfires should be seen if the village is to be safe from conflagrations.  If the Meuse happens to be frozen hard at the time, bonfires are lit also on the ice.  At Grand Halleux they set up a pole called makral or “the witch,” in the midst of the pile, and the fire is kindled by the man who was last married in the village.  In the neighbourhood of Morlanwelz a straw man is burnt in the fire.  Young people and children dance and sing round the bonfires, and leap over the embers to secure good crops or a happy marriage within the year, or as a means of guarding themselves against colic.  In Brabant on the same Sunday, down to the beginning of the nineteenth century, women and men disguised in female attire used to go with burning torches to the fields, where they danced and sang comic songs for the purpose, as they alleged, of driving away “the wicked sower,” who is mentioned in the Gospel for the day.  At Maeseyck and in many villages of Limburg, on the evening of the day children run through the streets carrying lighted torches; then they kindle little fires of straw in the fields and dance round them.  At Ensival old folks tell young folks that they will have as many Easter eggs as they see bonfires on this day.[267] At Paturages, in the province of Hainaut, down to about 1840 the custom was observed under the name of Escouvion or Scouvion.  Every year on the first Sunday of Lent, which was called the Day of the Little Scouvion, young folks and children used to run with lighted torches through the gardens and orchards.  As they ran they cried at the pitch of their voices,

Bear apples, bear pears
And cherries all black
  To Scouvion!

At these words the torch-bearer whirled his blazing brand and hurled it among the branches of the apple-trees, the pear-trees, and the cherry-trees.  The next Sunday was called the Day of the Great Scouvion, and the same race with lighted torches among the trees of the orchards was repeated in the afternoon till darkness fell.  The same custom was observed on the same two days at Wasmes.[268] In the neighbourhood of Liege, where the Lenten fires were put down by the police about the middle of the nineteenth century, girls thought that by leaping over the fires without

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Balder the Beautiful, Volume I. from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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