“Surely everyone is aware of the divine pleasures which attend a wintry fireside; candles at four o’clock, warm hearthrugs, tea, a fair tea-maker, shutters closed, curtains flowing in ample draperies to the floor, whilst the wind and rain are raging audibly without.”
― Thomas De Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium Eater (1821)
Today’s image: the fire
Is there a more compelling concept than the fireside on a winter’s day? It has a primordial lure, our bodies drawn to the warmth and our eyes drawn to the flames.
Fire, so vital to humankind’s evolution, is at least one million old, scientists believe, having found charred animal bones and plant remains in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave.
It is the mark of winter celebration throughout history and cultures, augmented in more recent times with lanterns and fireworks. Here in Europe, the Celts (750 BC to 12 BC) love a fire festival. They celebrated Samhain or ‘summer death’ in October, now revived in the Beltane Fire Festival. At midwinter, logs would be lit with the remains of the previous year’s fire, kept alight to banish evil spirits and to bring luck in the coming year. The ancient Norsemen, too, celebrated from the winter solstice into January; their ‘Yule logs’ burned to honour the returning sun.
As was the case for Thomas De Quincey (re the above quotation), a fellow northern Englander, it is dark here in midwinter by around four o’clock. At home we have a wood-burning stove that lures us. Past winters, it found itself lit at weekends. However, during lockdown, working from home and without the evening commute, we light it some weekday evenings, as a cosy treat. Close the curtains; we none of us, in any case, have the option to go anywhere else.
Fire, flames, they’re elemental, symbolic of so many concepts, of passion and desire, of rebirth, resurrection, and purification, but also of destruction and hell. The fireside though – that stands for domestic peace and harmony.
As we sit by the fire, so connected are we to our ancestry, the mesmeric act of gazing at the flames can act to lower the blood temperature, according to one 2014 study. In this case, the 226 adults in the study were asked simply to watch a video of a fireplace. Not even a real one. The longer they watched, the more relaxed they became. No wonder it’s hard to drag oneself away. This also suggests that even if you don’t have a real fire, screened options such as the Netflix ‘Fireplace for your Home’ are worth a try.
Whether your fire this December is from a wintry fireside, a tv screen, or from a summer outdoor barbecue or firepit, wishing you a peaceful and more secure month.
And to all those celebrating, Hanukkah Sameach!
Jennie Cohen, ‘Ancestors Tamed Fire Earlier than Thought’ on History Stories
Christopher Dana Lynn ‘Hearth and campfire influences on arterial blood pressure: defraying the costs of the social brain through fireside relaxation’ 2014 Nov 11, available on National Library of Medicine.
Smaller image by Carlos Alberto Gómez Iñiguez on Unsplash