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The fire speech.

The Danish tradition of burning a witch and giving a fire speech at midsummer keeps us mentally warm the rest of the year.
The fire speech.

In Denmark, it's tradition to burn a witch every year on the night of June, 23rd.

It sounds a bit morbid, but don't worry. It's not a real witch. It's made out of branches from last autumn's trimming of the garden, and they are now dry enough to set fire to.

All over the country big piles of branches are set on fire tonight, and at the top of every pile is a witch-like sculpture made of old clothes.

The ritual

The tradition, which is called Saint Hans, isn't really about witches, but a celebration of midsummer. From now on, the days get shorter, and darkness starts sneaking in on life in Denmark.

To cope with it, we celebrate the light, and what better way to do it than burn something? We purge ourselves from darkness through the ritual of fire, and to make sure we get rid of it all, we put a witch on top. It's probably not necessary, but you know, just in case.

The speaker

Then, as the flames of the bonfire reach the witch, a carefully selected individual gets the honour of giving the fire speech.

Usually it's the local writer who is picked for the job, and he or she now has to speak about something that we can all take with us into the long, dark time ahead of us.

It's quite the challenge doing the fire speech. Mainly because no one can hear it out in the open air, and there is always a lot of guessing about what is being said. Even so, the content of the speech has to have a philosophical edge that puts life in perspective.

The song

When the speech is done, and the witch has turned to ashes, everyone sings a song.

In theory that is, because Danes don't like singing in public, unless they have had a lot to drink, or are watching football. Or both (it's usually both, actually). So the song tends to be a bit vague, and no one gets the release from it that could otherwise have been nice.

Nonetheless, the song is quite beautiful, and it's about the love for our country at midsummer. That makes sense, since the rest of the year is pretty horrible. At this time of the year, though, the weather in Denmark is usually nice, and if we are lucky, it lasts a couple of weeks spread out over the entire summer.

The lesson

After the song, everyone goes home. The celebration of midsummer is over, and the Danes return to their daily lives; ready to grind through another nine months of misty darkness, before the spring arrives (one begins to understand where the witch comes from).

Having said that, there is one good thing about today's celebration.

We are reminded how important it is to enjoy the light while we have it. If we are able to see that as metaphor for the beautiful, caring, and nourishing things in life, then it's a great lesson to learn, and it makes going through life easier wherever we live.

Which brings me to this week's writing exercise, because what I want you to do is this:

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