Jumping over the fire may seem an odd and dangerous ritual to be practiced by the masses. But that’s exactly what Armenians do at some celebrations! This tradition goes back to history and has become a significant part of our cultural heritage. Why do we do that? I will get into some details with a closer look at this amazing tradition’s history, symbolism, and meaning.
Armenians jump over the fire as part of their cultural heritage. Jumping over the fire symbolizes the purification of the soul, the renewal of life, and protection from harm. This custom goes back to the Pagan tradition while the Armenian Apostolic Church later incorporated it. Armenians jump over the fire during Trndez, an annual festive ritual for newly married couples.
Traces to Pagan religion
In ancient times Armenians believed that fire had the power to purify and protect. Ancient Armenians believed that fire helped people to fight evil spirits and negative energy. So, they used to jump over the fire during New Year, weddings, and other significant events.
In the old Armenian pagan religion, several gods and goddesses symbolized fire. Perhaps, the most notable was Vahagn who was the god of fire and war. Armenians worshiped Vahagn and believed that he was a powerful deity that protected them. Our ancestors also used the smoke of the fire to predict the future. I believe it was also a form of strategic “planning” of military operations of the time.
Another deity associated with fire was Mihr. He was the deity of the light of heaven and the god of sun in the ancient Armenian mythology. That explains why nowadays we celebrate the “Christian” fire festival Trndez. It has obvious pagan roots, in the month that was the month of Mihr – in February.
Ancient Armenians also saw fire as a symbol of truth, purity, and divine grace. They considered fire to be a link between a human and the spiritual world. They worshiped it as a sort of deity in its own right. It’s interesting that this links very well with a Zoroastrian concept of holy fire called Atar. Generally, Zoroastrianism in Armenia went hand in hand with our local pagan religion. So, for those who want to learn more about how these two intertwined in our culture across centuries, I would advise checking the link above.
Symbolism of fire in the Armenian culture
As it is probably clear to you from the previous paragraph, Armenians believed in the power of fire for thousands of years. You can imagine that since this attitude has been continuously passed among us from one generation to another, today, maybe even subconsciously, for Armenians, fire is still an element that symbolizes life, warmth, and renewal. These symbolic meanings are simply too deeply rooted in Armenian culture to completely vanish from our modern minds.
The fact that the advancing Church didn’t take a very strong position against the use of fire, and in fact, the Armenian Apostolic Church largely adopted and transformed the relationship to fire into its own traditions and rituals, also helped to maintain this sacred relationship in some forms.
Today, Armenians light a candle whenever they want something from the god, or they want to thank the divine power for something good they believe god gave them. I can hardly imagine a visit to a church that doesn’t involve lighting at least one candle. But many also do this simply in the privacy of their homes.
How I was saved from nightmares with fire
Even beyond the Church environment, for example among shamanic grannies that still practice their craft in some villages in Armenia, you can still see an avid use of fire and candles. I vividly remember once, when I was a kid having trouble falling asleep. I was seeing eyes in my dreams, and, for some reason, I was scared of them. And a shamanic ritual seemed a perfectly reasonable solution to this in the eyes of my mom. 🙂
So, my mom took me to this “witch” lady in some village outside Yerevan. I remember the old lady immediately lit a candle and started saying a prayer of sorts, all while running the candle all over my head. She finally took some sort of a pot with water and the candle almost immediately melted into it forming a random shape. She proceeded to tell my mom that I was healed and my fears were supposed to be trapped inside that shape formed by the melted candle in the pot. Guess what!? I stopped having nightmares. 🙂 But maybe it’s just because I didn’t want to see that lady ever again. 🙂
Trndez: the main reason we jump over the fire
If you see Armenians jumping over the fire, it’s probably Trndez! That’s the main event of the year when Armenians practice this ritual. Ancient Armenians originally celebrated as a festival of purification, renewal, and fertility. It was held to mark the end of winter. Traditionally, during the Trndez celebration, newly-married couples jump over the fire. The act is seen by the newlyweds as a way of purifying themselves of any negative energy and starting their married life with a clean slate. But in reality, anyone who wishes to participate in the Trndez celebration can also jump over the fire, not just the newlyweds.
Although having roots in Paganism, with the arrival of Christianity in Armenia, Christian institutions adopted the tradition of Trndez and gave it a new Christian interpretation. We was now celebrate it as a Christian feast of the “purification” of the Virgin Mary. According to beliefs it took place 40 days after the birth of Jesus when Virgin Mary presented the baby at the Temple in Jerusalem. Btw, if you want to learn more about the Armenian religion, which is a pretty unique branch of Christianity, check out the link.
On the day before Trndez, families prepare a big feast, where they gather with friends and relatives to celebrate. On the day of Trndez itself, people attend church services, where they receive the blessing of the fire and the lighting of candles, and then head outside to participate in the jumping over the fire ceremony. Young men and women usually surround the fire who help to ensure everyone’s safety while people jump over it.
Armenians celebrate Trndez in early February (sometimes in late January). People celebrate this festive event in many parts of Armenia, especially in rural areas. If you are visiting Armenia during this time, it is definitely worth checking out. It is a unique and colorful celebration that truly captures the vibrant spirit of my people and our colorful heritage.
But keep in mind, safety is always a top priority, and experienced organizers should properly manage and supervize the fire. People should only jump over the fire if they are comfortable doing so and are physically fit enough for that. No one should force you to do that if you don’t want to. And if you want to learn even more about Trndez before you try it yourself, check out this overview.
Wrapping up, fire has been an important element in Armenian culture. It goes back thousands of years with roots in the Pagan tradition. Meantime, the Armenian Apostolic Church incorporated the tradition into many Christian rituals. Many of these rituals and traditions have passed from generation to generation. I think it is beautiful that we get to keep something as beautiful and positive in its meaning as our bonfires to this day. If you want to be part of this ritual, welcome to Armenia during Trndez celebrations. You will meet a lot of Armenians making bonfires in their yards and different spots across many cities and towns. It’s fun! Don’t be shy to join. If you have your story about the Armenian Trndez or you want to share some photos, don’t forget to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I’m looking forward to it!
Featured image credits: Photo by Cullan Smith on Unsplash (edited)