San Antonio Bonfire night
By Brigid Cook, USAC student
On January 16th I travelled from nearby Viterbo to Bagnaia Lazio Italy for an epic bonfire night that was filled with laughter, mulled wine and live music. A giant eight meter tall bonfire sat in the middle of the town square, to honour Saint Antonio. Saint Antonio is the patron saint of fire. He is said to have entered hell and stolen a glowing ember from the devil. The lighting of the bonfire is a symbolic purification ritual; the burning of sin and evil and the setting free of positive forces.
I arrived in Bagnaia not knowing what to expect. I thought that this event would be just an ordinary bonfire. I was so wrong!
The festival kicks off with the lighting of the biggest stack of wood you have ever seen. The top of the bonfire was level with the rooves of the houses and buildings surrounding the town square. Being from Australia, a country prone to ferocious bushfires and with very strict fire restrictions, I was more than a little worried for the safety of nearby homes and event-goers if the bonfire was to get out of control. At first I stood well back while the flames reached higher than the buildings. I relaxed once it was clear that the massive inferno was actually kept well under control.No buildings were harmed, although my jacket and hair definitely were kissed by the embers.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about the Italian people over the last few months, it is that they know how to throw an event. Hundreds of people surrounded the bonfire, drinking mulled wine, or hot chocolate and eating local delicacies. It is impossible not to have a good time admiring the gigantic fire , which is really more like a work of art.
As the night progressed and a large part of the crowd had maybe enjoyed a few too many mulled wines, the real fun began. Parents took their children home and the band became increasingly more ‘lit.’ Now I wouldn’t say that I’m a dancer, in fact I would argue that my lack of coordination makes me an awful performer, but there was something about the music and the vibe of the crowd that made me want to let loose. Dancing in the shadow of the flames, kept warm by the blaze of the fire, the crowd became my friend. It has to be one of the best nights out I have had in Italy. A mix of Italian and American music was played, which kept the throng of dancers lively and engaged. The atmosphere of the crowd was insanely upbeat; everyone was sporting really positive vibes, though whether that was solely down to the purifying effect of the fire or if the mulled wine played a significant part, it’s hard to say!
Italian girls pushed their way onto the main stage to dance, only to be later escorted off again by security. Confetti was scattered beneath our feet. The ‘mosh pit’ was full of life, particularly when, every once in a while, a universally familiar classic hit filled the air, exciting the passion and enthusiasm of the dancers.
The night ended at around two in the morning, just as the flames were dying down and the specular bonfire had been reduced to a warm bed of glowing ember coals. The music stopped, but of course, no one left until the band, in the wee hours, struck up again to satisfy the crowd’s remaining thirst for music with a series of encores.
Whether you are looking to honour the spirit of Saint Antonio, or you simply enjoy sampling local cuisine, or letting loose on the dancefloor, this annual evening won’t disappoint. Basking in the warm glow of the biggest bonfire I’ve laid eyes on, with great friends and quality entertainment, is one of the greatest nights out in Italy I’ve had so far.0