21 February 2023
Biikebrennen is derived from the North Frisian word for fire signal. Today it refers to a folk festival that is celebrated in North Frisia every year on February 21. February 21 is the day before Petritag, an ecclesiastical feast day. On this occasion, more than just a fire is lit. Many visitors use this custom to enjoy the special atmosphere created by the combination of sky, sea, fire and beach.
Experts are not quite sure when and why the Biikebrennen was first celebrated. It's assumed that the tradition of making a huge file comes from Middle Ages. Most likely, it was done to drive away evil spirits.
Later, the Biikebrennen took on a different meaning. The fire signal was used by whalers who set out to catch whales every year. Hence, Petritag was considered the fixed start of the annual whaling season.
Another legend claims that the fires were actually for the Danish men on the mainland to let them know that the women on the island need helping hands.
Later, the Biikebrennen also spread to other communities in Schleswig-Holstein. So it is regularly held inland as well.
First of all, the so-called fire sticks are erected.
Almost every homestead, in any case, every municipality carries out its own Biikebrennen. Besides the big fire, many activities take place around the burning. Partly there are own traditions around the Biikebrennen. For example, on the islands of Sylt, Föhr and Amrum. Here there is the custom of the premature and successive lighting of bonfires in individual villages.
Straw dolls and wooden barrels
In some communities, instead of lighting a fire of all kinds of wooden materials, the so-called Petermännchen is burned. This is a straw doll. It is supposed to represent the pope. In the past, people on the islands in North Frisia did not like him very much. On the other hand, the straw doll also represents winter, which is now to be finally bidden farewell by the burning.
In other places and communities, an old wooden barrel or similar vessel is placed on the top of the fire pile. When this object falls, it is also said to symbolize the end of winter. Traditionally, before the fire is lit, a speech is made in Frisian. This is also repeated again in High German. which is often repeated afterwards in German.
The next day, Petritag, kale is traditionally eaten. Often this tradition is also offered immediately after the fire. On the islands of Sylt and Föhr, schools remain closed the next day.
Learn more about the Biikebrennen by the North Sea