Lilanje is one of the most exciting events for children because it includes doing things that are usually forbidden for them. This is the only time in the year when children are allowed to play with fire. This custom is followed in Western part of Serbia and some Eastern parts of Bosnia.
Lilanje is a semi-religious Serbian custom where dry birch or cherry cortex is placed on the wooden stick named Lila and set alight. Lilanje is celebrated on public spaces on the night before Feast of Saints Peter and Paul which in Serbia falls on 12th of July.
Before the ritual begins, a huge fireplace is made on a gathering spot before the sunset. When the sun finally disappears below the horizon, all children gather around the fire and light up their handmade. When the wooden sticks are set on fire, the children start to simultaneously swing the burning lile in circles above their heads. The burning fire is supposed to scare the evil spirits off, so that the fields with crops would grow freely, which would ensure a rich harvesting year for the villagers. It is thought that in the night fire scares demons and witches and protects people, animals and fields. After all lile are burned, the children start to jump above the fire for a happy and lucky year. Another important sign are the sparkles that the lile and the fire is making. The more sparkles, the richer the harvesting year will be.
Lile are usually made days before the big event so that bark can dry properly and thus burn with more sparks during the event.
The origins of the custom are debatable. Some sources claim that this custom is older than Christianity and that it is a pagan ritual. Others claim that lilanje is a symbolic reminder of the suffering experienced by Christians, in a time when they were tied to wooden poles, had tar and resin poured on them and then were set alight. Christians had to hide in caves to perform their rites and on their way there they had to make fire that lit the way to the place of gathering.
Video of lilanje in Serbia.
Do you practice lilanje?