It’s not really much of a surprise that fire is associated with many of the winter holidays. Xmas has many traditions around the fireplace – stockings, Santa’s entrance, Yule has the Yule log, and Hanukkah has the lighting of the Menorah. These holidays all take place around the winter solstice, the shortest (and hence darkest) day of the year, and fire has traditionally held a significant place in such celebrations. Diwali, the Hindu celebration, which often takes place well before Xmas, is also associated with the lighting of small lamps. Also, the Persian festival of Sadeh, celebrated in midwinter, honors fire with the lighting of bonfires to ward off the cold, the dark, and evil.
Interestingly, the Roman festival of Saturnalia did not have any specific rituals involving fire that I could find. Saturnalia was named after Saturn, known in the Greek as Cronus, one of the Titans and the father of the elder gods of Olympus. However, it’s not a far jump from Cronus to fellow Titan, Prometheus, who, in the myths, famously stole Fire from Zeus and gave it to humans.
It’s just another in a long line of dickish moves by Zeus, hoarding fire away. And what did Prometheus get for revolutionizing the world for humankind? Zeus had him chained to a rock where every day an eagle would come and eat out his liver. Each night, the liver would grow back so the same thing could happen the next day.
Zeus – one of the biggest assholes in mythological history.
Prometheus was forced to suffer this torture until Herakles came along and killed the eagle and freed Prometheus from his chains. (Herakles knew from being punished – he was constantly tormented by Hera who even drove him mad so that he killed his own children).
Other myths from other cultures repeat the theme of someone “stealing fire” and bringing it to Man. In many Native American cultures, Fire is stolen and given to Man by an animal spirit. These depend on the tribe but include Grandmother Spider, Coyote, Beaver, Dog, Crow, and Rabbit. In the Rig Veda, the hero, M?tari?van, recovers a hidden fire. And in the Book of Enoch, an apocryphal text in Judaism, it’s fallen angels that give Fire to human beings.
Whatever the source of Fire – be it Rabbit, Prometheus or some person rubbing two sticks together – I wish everyone out there plenty of warmth and light this holiday season, both literal and metaphorical.
“Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must first set yourself on fire.” – Fred Shero
“Buttercup: That’s the fire swamp! We’ll never survive.
Wesley:Nonsense! You’re only saying that because no one ever has.” – The Princess Bride
And if, like me, you are without an actual fireplace, I give you a virtual one: