This coming Sunday is Easter Sunday according to the Orthodox calendar, and that means tonight is that often-forgotten night of the Holy Week, the one where you jump over a bonfire. Oh no? You don’t do that one? Must just be Georgia. Yes, tonight is Chiakokonoba, the night where you jump over the bonfire to rid yourself of evil spirits, a ritual (like many spring rituals around the world) with an obvious pagan heart. It may be something borrowed long ago from the ancient Zoroastrians – the old fire worshippers that used to live next door in Azerbaijan and parts of Iran.
In a sublimely Georgian approach to health and safety, this ritual is primarily performed by children. It’s hard to imagine in our world where we can’t let a child eat a piece of trick-or-treat candy on Halloween before the chemical lab results come in, parents shooing their kids out the door to go jump in the fire. I can say with some confidence that Chiakokonoba ranks even above soccer in the hearts of 11 year old boys, as the hooligans on my street chucked their nightly match for an evening of setting stuff on fire and running through it. The only apparent adult supervision for the festivities consisted of, well, me. Gawking from a distance. (Though in all fairness, their fire wasn’t half as impressive as this one. Maybe I should have helped. After a winter spent nursing soggy logs into flame, I feel like something of a fire whisperer myself.)
The Georgian Orthodox Church made a declaration about Chiakokonoba, and from what I could make of it via Google Translate, he either said that it sounds like a fabulous tropical island, OR the more likely interpretation: he is not so keen on the pagan roots of Chiakokonoba and suggests people drop it and focus on the real rituals of the Holy Week. You can see his point, but the 11-year-olds have not.