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Bonfire Sunday

by Theresa König last modified 2007-11-08 10:00

Funken Sonntag, or Bonfire Sunday, also known in Vorarlberg as Cake Sunday, Hollow pan Sunday or Old Carnival - is the first Sunday after Ash Wednesday.  The origin of this tradition isn‘t clear.  The most popular opinion is that it is a heathen tradition that was meant to scare off the winter using light and warmth.  The bon fire is made out of an ornately layered wooden tower. At the top there is a life sized doll filled with gun powder in the shape of a witch.1 The highlight of the bonfire is when the witch catches fire and explodes.  In the early days, the preparations for bonfire Sunday were carried out by the village children.  There were a number of bonfires at the top of practically every hamlet.  The competition between the different bonfires was fierce and each hamlet had to guard their bonfire so that it wouldn't be burned down before Bonfire Sunday.  This is also true today in some places, whereby now only one big bonfire is built for the whole town.  The bonfire in Vandans is an original Montafon bonfire with about one meter long logs, not nailed but stacked cross-ways until they reach a height of about 15 - 20 meters.2  If the tower falls down before the witch burns it is generally taken as a bad omen.  If this happens, the witch is buried the following Sunday.3  After the Second World War many bonfire clubs were founded and the execution of the tradition became more professional. 
The tradition of cutting rounds of wood is a forerunner to the bonfire.  Here they would take small burning rounds of wood and skewer them on a stick and then stick them in the fire until they started to glow red.  Once they were red they would be placed on a ramp or box made of wood and hit so that they flew up into the air.  According to tradition, each round was dedicated to a certain person or a quote was repeated and salutations sent out to someone while they were being catapulted into the air. 


1 Called the Funkahex

2 Vgl. Vandans News Winter 2003: 5



P08-3_The Bonfire.mp3

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