Last night, across this country, hundreds of people got together and burned crosses in their yards. I don’t know about you, but I come from a background where burning crosses was never a good thing. And somehow, it seemed a little backwards to me that people in Africa were burning crosses. That was not how we learned it in my history classes. I had heard tale of this cross-burning activity here in Africa, but because I live in a Muslim area, I had never witnessed the occasion. It is an Orthodox religious holiday, therefore only the Orthodox take part in these festivities. Luckily, we knew someone whose family was Orthodox and lived in a nearby town and asked to be taken to her house to see what all the festivities were about. After being force fed lots of food – delicious food at least – we were escorted outside where a huge pile of dried leaves and sticks had been gathered and was ready to be burned. All across the neigborhood other families had similar piles of kindling gathered or bonfires going. There was no cross to be burned in this bonfire pile, although the rumor is that the cross usually sticks up at the top of the burning pile. Of course, with my Southern history all I take away from that is that people are burning crosses.
The real story behind the whole holiday is that back in the olden days some queen somewhere wanted to find the true cross – the one that Jesus actually died on. She had a dream that told her that if she lit a fire in her yard the smoke would go up and come down in the place where the true cross was. Here, in this country, they also believe that one of the churches here has an actual piece of the true cross in its possession. So, every year, the finding of the true cross is one of the largest holidays here for the Orthodox Christians. In honor of that, they build a bonfire and light it on fire (supposedly with a cross in the top of it) to symbolize the finding of the true cross all those years ago. A pretty neat, if not slightly skewed, celebration of history. A lot more endearing than America’s history of burning crosses, I must say.
You can see the video of the celebration here. After the fire was lit, the local church boys came in with their drum and celebrated with song and dance. After that, some other random guy ran in with his drum and horde of impressionable boys following him and they danced around the fire…..several times. It was one of the more “African” celebrations I have attended. Quite entertaining even if we had no idea what was going on most of the time.