Paasvuren – Easter Fires Posted by Sten on Apr 23, 2015 in Culture
A very, very old tradition that ignites the east of the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, notably Germany, every Easter – paasvuren! Throughout the year, a small group collects snoeihout – branches, twigs, and other bits of wood – and creates a pile. When the night falls during Easter, the fire is set on fire. This fire is then for the entire village or town, to enjoy. These piles can get very large! But why? Why are there not many small ones? Why would people not create their own little fires?
Paasvuur in my home town in Germany
The answer lies in modern safety and environmental concerns. Paasvuren are perceived as dangerous if ignited close to buildings, which is therefore prohibited. Also, the large amount of fires brings with it a large amount of Greenhouse Gas Emissions – a modern environmental concern. Especially the burning of more than just snoeihout, for example car tires, made the toxicity of the smoke a lot worse. Therefore, municipalities decided to keep paasvuren in central places only, and only consisting of snoeihout. And like this, the tradition lived on.
Paasvuren are believed to have existed for thousands of years, originating in Germanic mythology and Old-Saxon beliefs. How old exactly the fires are is unclear, however the first written evidence of paasvuren was from 1559. They would have stood for fertility in Germanic times. Later, when Christianity spread throughout Europe, the fires were given a Christian connotation. The fire since then has stood for the rise of Jesus, and are therefore burnt on Good Friday, Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.
Why were paasvuren not just banned, like many other Germanic traditions? Well, the Germanic tribes were tough. Even though it was prohibited to carry out their tradition, they went ahead anyway. And when the Christians figured that banning is no option, the meaning was changed. Creative!
In the Second World War, there was a rule in place for the nights: verduisteren! Such darkening was imposed by the German occupier in order to make villages and cities invisible for bombers. Since paasvuren create a lot of light, they were not allowed. So also paasvuren had to be verduisterd.
Twente, a part of the province Overijssel, is the most famous area for paasvuren, as there are many fires built close to each other. This is the area I am from, and I remember the many times we would drive out there and discover the many fires that were lit during the night. It was always a lot of fun: where was the largest?!
So… Where is the largest? It is in a small town in Twente, called Espelo. They made a fire good for the Guiness World Records in 2012, which was a stunning 45,98 m high! (150.8 ft). It is even more impressive when considering that only 4,5 m (15 ft) are allowed to be built with a crane – all the rest has to be done by hand! There are pictures of this year, and there is a video of the largest fire in 2012:
Do you have something similar where you are from? Are you familiar with Easter fires?
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