From Academic Kids

A bonfire or balefire is a large controlled outdoor fire made from bales of straw or wood. The word is believed to be a corruption of "bone fire" deriving from a Celtic midsummer festival where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits. In Great Britain, bonfires are particularly associated with bonfire night (also known as fireworks night or Guy Fawkes night), an annual commemoration of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot on 5 November 1605, while in Northern Ireland, they are associated with celebrations on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne, which took place on 12 July 1690. Along with the Maypole, it is an important component of the Wiccan and Neopagan celebration of Beltaine, also known as May Day.

In Japan, large fires called bon-bi are set to welcome the return of the spirits of the ancestors. Though the two terms are not etymologically or historically related, they serve similar purposes and indicate the universal importance of large fires.

The bonfire is part of a ritual of purification and consecration. In ancient times, cattle, important symbols of wealth and status, were led through the smoke of a bonfire. Couples who were to be wed on May Day would leap through the flames of the bonfire to seal their vows. Coals from a bonfire would be taken home to light the fires in family hearths, a practice thought to bring good fortune. It was also believed that the residents of the Faery realm were incapable of producing fire themselves; embers of bonfires would be carried to the underworld and tended there.

Nine woods are placed into a traditional Wiccan balefire. These woods are rowan, dogwood, elder, poplar, oak, juniper, holly, cedar, and apple. Occasionally, pine is also used instead of holly or elder, as are a handful of other woods. In some regions, superstition, religious belief, or tradition prohibits the cutting of certain trees.

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(Pictures of Wiccan bonfires or balefires.)

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