Bonfires of Winter



The Armenian Church holiday of Diyardendarach, Derendez, or Candlemas Day, was originally a pagan fire and sun festival. As with many pagan holidays, the Armenian Christian Church found it more efficacious to adapt the fire festival rather than to suppress it. It was Christianized as a celebration of the Eve of the Great Lent that is observed on February 14th, 40 days after Armenian Christmas and coinciding with Valentine’s Day. In Armenia bonfires are built on the eve of February 13 or the early hours of February 14. These fires are made in churchyards and backyards where people gather to watch the flames. As the flames die down newlyweds from the previous year, holding hands to strengthen their union, leap across the fire. In earlier periods, the ritual entailed circling the fire three times. Once the couples have had their turn, children and other adults jump over the embers. In the 19th century, the ashes were strewn over fields to promote fertility, harkening to pagan times when this festival was also a celebration of the coming spring and a new season of growing. After the fire ceremony, there is music, dancing, eating and drinking. On the morning of February 14th, a Divine Liturgy is offered in Armenian churches, followed by the blessing of newlyweds.



Nancy Kricorian