No kick-ass outdoor celebration is complete without a good bonfire. The s'mores, sing-alongs and talks shared until the last embers extinguish are what summer is all about. But a bonfire isn't just a complement to good times. When done right, it can be one of the main attractions.
While the Fourth of July is an excellent time for bonfires, they've been popular since long before the US was even on the map. Bonfires span every season-in fact, for obvious reasons they're very popular in the colder months-and countries as diverse as Italy and India have created bonfire traditions and rituals. While some are simple and intimate, others are just plain over the top.
If you're considering a bonfire at your next gathering, keep this in mind: While fun, they require great care. In 2006, more than 83 percent of forest fires were caused by human activities, according to the Arbor Day Foundation. These incidents not only take a huge economic toll (in 2012, wildfires caused more than $1 billion in damage in the United States alone), but can also be deadly. Wildfires, peat fires and controlled burns on farming lands kill 339,000 people worldwide annually. For these reasons, it's imperative to know the proper techniques for lighting, controlling and extinguishing a bonfire.
With the help of our slideshow, you can avoid rookie (and dangerous) mistakes...and have some cool facts to share with your friends as you celebrate. For instance, do you know where the word bonfire comes from, or who holds the world record for the largest one? If you're ready to know the answers to these questions and more, click here.
Credit: Flickr/Boston Public Library
They Helped Celebrate America's First Independence Days
In the United States' early years, fireworks were just one part of the Fourth of July tradition. In the weeks leading up to the holiday, volunteers collected and assembled materials for a massive bonfire. Up to eight thousand barrels were used to create structures up to 40 tiers high. At midnight, the structure was lit and the night "turned into the morning of a new year of liberty."
Credit: Owen Long
Bonfires Light the Way for Santa Claus in Louisiana
On Christmas Eve, bonfires are lit along the levees of the Mississippi River in Louisiana. They are said to light the way for Papa Noel as he makes his way from town to town in his pirogue (a Cajun canoe) pulled by eight alligators.