Woke up today to find the sky tinged a bluish hue and the smell of smoke in the air, the smell of burning wood to be precise. The city skyline was obscured by smoke, and familiar buildings had disappeared into the haze.
It seemed the city was on fire. But the smell was wrong. This wasn’t the smell of a toxic city fire. It was the smell of a forest fire. A pine scented conflagration. What the hell was it?
Nothing on the local TV news indicated that any major incident had taken place. No buildings had gone up in smoke, the harbour had not been set alight.
Turns out it was smoke from Easter bonfires that had been lit up in the north east of Holland, and in Denmark and Germany. The smoke had settled due to the low cloud and lack of wind and was now blanketing large swathes of the country .
Lighting Easter bonfires is an ancient ritual in parts of Europe apparently (though it is one which I am not too familiar with I must admit).
The bonfires are apparently lit to celebrate the arrival of spring. In pre-Christian times, effigies were burned to signify the death of winter, although these days the effigy is usually that of Judas Iscariot (giving the fires their name “judas fires”).
In Finland they add a little black magic to the proceedings. According to ancient local beliefs, Easter Saturday is the day when Finnish witches come out to play. In the past, bonfires were lit to keep such evil spirits away, and this tradition is kept alive each year on Seurasaari Island. The event even attracts covens of witches – complete with cauldrons and broomsticks.