St. John’s Bonfire

By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)

“Filomena, Filomena! Mama says make it quick. Mama, Papa, Francisco and I are already ready!” blurted ten-year-old Fatima. 

“I know, Fatima, I’ll be out in a minute!” Filomena called back in exasperation. She sighed and groaned as she quickly finished touching up her hair and put on her shoes. She walked to her mirror and did one final check to make sure everything was perfect. She was wearing a traditional Portuguese dress; red and white with gold accents. A golden cross set with jewels hung around her neck while a pair of crystal studs was set in her earlobes. Her dark hair was put up in an elegant bun as a pair of ringlets dangled in the front, with tiny, white baby’s breath dotting the bun. She twirled once for effect before grabbing her Mass veil and leaving her room. Her mother and sister both wore the same kind of dress, her sister wearing a blue variant while their mother had black. Both her father and brother wore the traditional black suit and hat.

“Filomena! Finally! Any longer and we would have left you here!” her mother exclaimed. 

Filomena glanced down, “Sorry Mama.” 

“Prove it by being early next time. Come on, or we’ll be really late!” Filomena nodded slowly before rushing after her family out to the carriage. They pulled away from the house slowly, but picked up speed as they traveled across the cobblestone streets. The ride was primarily quiet, the only noises came from outside the carriage as they soon passed up families who were walking towards the same destination. A few minutes later, the carriage came to a stop, and the family piled out. The driver handed down several baskets before leaving. The family took the baskets straight to the hall next to the church. Several other families had already arrived and were setting up food, arranging the tables to make a dance floor, and setting up a band. Francisco joined his father in helping with the tables while Filomena and Fatima helped their mother set up the food. They pulled out hundreds of loaves of fried bread and broa cornbread, followed by dozens of sweet bread and coconut cakes. Filomena glanced at the rest of the food; there were several pots of caldo verde, the kale, sausage and potato soup common to Portugal; the chourico and linguica sausages were already sliced and ready to serve with the soup, while platters piled high with sardines, cod, and clams sat next to several pots of arroz de braga, a rice casserole cooked with chicken, sausage, ham, red bell peppers, onions and cabbage. Filomena’s mouth began to water, and her stomach began to grumble at the sight of so much good food. But her mother shooed her and Fatima off to help finish setting up as it was only a matter of minutes before the party would start. The rest of the families of the parish filed in, and as soon as the sun set, everyone went outside. The priest and a couple of altar boys were already outside, standing behind a large mound of wood. The priest took several matches, lit them, and tossed them into the wood until a good, roaring bonfire was going. He turned to the altar boy who held a missal. 

“Our help is in the name of the Lord,” he read. 

The altar servers and the laity answered, “Who made heaven and earth.”

“The Lord be with you.”

“May He also be with you.”

“Let us pray. Lord God, almighty Father, the light that never fails and the source of all light, sanctify this new fire, and grant that after the darkness of this life we may come unsullied to Thee Who art light eternal; through Christ our Lord.” The priest sprinkled the fire with some holy water. 


The priest joined the people in the hymn, “Ut queant laxis resonáre fibris Mira gestórum fámuli tuórum, solve pollúti lábii reátum, Sancte Joánnes. Núntius celso véniens Olýmpo te patri magnum fore nascitúrum, nomen, et vitae sériem geréndae ordinae promit. Ille promíssi dúbius supérni, pérdidit promptae módulos loquélae: Sed reformásti genitus perémptae organa vocis. Ventris obstrúso récubans cubíli sénseras Regem thálamo manéntem: hinc parens nati méritis utérque Abdita pandit. Sit decus Patri, genitaéque Proli et tibi, compare utriúsque virtus, Spíritus semper, Deus unus, omni témporis aevo. Amen.”* The priest began the Rosary, walking in a wide circle. The people filed in behind him, tossing Sacramentals into the fire as they passed before following the priest around the church and into the hall. They finished the Rosary there, after which the merrymaking began. The band struck up several lively tunes, to which several of the adults and children danced to. 

“Come and eat!” one of the women called out, making the dancing pause. Food was served and eaten while everyone chatted gaily before returning to the dance floor. A few more trips were made to the food, ending with dessert. About half an hour before midnight, the priest and the altar boys, along with Francisco and a few others, left the hall. The partying stopped and everyone pitched in to clean up. Once the hall was in ship-shape order, many of the families went home while the rest marched over to the church, and a Mass was offered. The Ut Queant Laxis was sung again at the end, accompanied by organ music. The bonfire was soon put out and the families trudged on home, carrying empty pots, or in the case of Filomena’s family, empty baskets. 

“Yay, we get to sleep in tomorrow,” yawned Fatima as Filomena helped her into her nightdress. 

Filomena smiled, “But don’t sleep in too late, Mama’s making malasadas and roll-ups for breakfast.” 

“Mm-hmm,” muttered Fatima as she drifted off to sleep. It wasn’t long before Filomena joined her, the excitement of the night filling her dreams. 

*O for your spirit, holy John, to chasten lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen; So by your children might your deeds of wonder meetly be chanted. Lo! a swift herald, from the skies descending, bears to your father promise of your greatness; how he shall name you, what your future story, duly revealing. Scarcely believing message so transcendent, him for a season power of speech forsaketh, till, at your wondrous birth, again returneth, voice to the voiceless. You, in your mother’s womb all darkly cradled, knew your great Monarch, biding in His chamber,  whence the two parents, through their offspring’s merits, mysteries uttered. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotten, and to the Spirit, equal power possessing, one God whose glory, through the lapse of ages, ever resounding. Amen.

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