OPINION

June 24, 1958

THE FIRES OF AI-YIANNIS: (From a commentary by Georgios Megas) Tonight, on the eve of the feast of Aghios Ioannis Prodromos, the custom of lighting fires in the streets in front of houses using reeds or old palm leaves will once again be revived and children will be competing as to who can jump over the biggest fire. The shouts accompanying the leaps, exorcising «bed bugs and fleas» bear witness to the fact that both young and old hope to cast into the flames the enemies of a good night’s sleep. Although initially designed to ward off these tiny beasts, the fires are also invoked against larger foes, such as epidemic diseases. In antiquity, jumping over fire was believed to be a catharsis against every kind of evil. The date ushers in a new season and the feast day of the saint, who is celebrated in places such as Kymi, Kythnos, Lesvos and Sinope. There is also the belief that on that particular day, the sun «shakes and is blinding.» The fire-leaping customs of June 24 are not restricted to Greece but are found among all the peoples of Europe, from Scandinavia and Ireland to Russia. Similarities lie in the tiniest of details, which can only be explained by the fact that the custom dates from our common Indo-European origins.