Flying over the bonfire is the Armenian Valentine’s Day tradition
By Rachel Melikian
February 14th is the celebration of love known as Valentine’s Day, when couples exchange popular gifts like roses and chocolates, go on dates and indulge in romance. This day is also very special for couples in the Armenian Church, when the Feast of the Presentation of the Child Christ in the Temple is celebrated, also known as Dyarnentarach or Derendes. In this celebration, children are dedicated to the temple like the infant Christ and the faithful light their candles that the priest provides at the altar, and bring this blessed light of Christ to their homes. After the ceremony, in a demonstration of their love to each other, new couples jump over a bonfire or a campfire, the bride’s beau guarding her safety like a firefighter, as the couple watches their problems burn in the metaphorical fire.
It’s a coincidence that this Armenian Dyarenentarach falls on the American Hallmark holiday that celebrates love, Valentine’s Day. The feast of the Christ Child celebration to the Temple is, without exception, on February 14th in the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, because it is 40 days after Christmas that falls on January 6th. For holy holidays like the observance of the Great Lent, the celebration of the Easter resurrection, and the festivities of St. Vartanants feast, the date varies. But the Presentation of the Child Christ in the Temple is always on February 14th. This year St. Vartanants feast falls on a perfect date, Thursday, February 20th (02/20/2020).
Another interesting thing about the liturgical calendar is that the Great Lent might fall before, during or after Dyarenentarach. Usually it starts in February, and this year it begins on Monday, February 24th. Before the Great Lent begins we have the great feast of Paregentan, which this year falls on Sunday, February 23rd. The feast includes delicious, traditional dishes that people rarely take the time to make on a regular basis. These dishes have specific nutritional purposes, with high protein meats and high calcium. Many butter-rich special pastries are made that are specific for the feast of Paregentan, that are stuffed with walnuts, pistachios and dates mixed with special spices and ingredients.
The newly engaged or wed couples enter church together on this holiday to form an everlasting bond and base their love on a strong foundation. After the presentation of the feast is over, the couples make their commitment known to the community in the special fire jumping ceremony. The whole church community watches this spectacular, heart-stopping live action, while song and dance are being performed and people clap for the successful jump over the burning embers and flaming logs.
On the eve of the Dyarenentarach feast, rain or shine, no matter the elements of the weather, the groom is there to ensure the safety of his bride or his fiancé. Because flying over a bonfire is a dangerous feat, the groom has to be strong and ready to grab her waist to lift her to safety in case she can’t jump high enough, or the wind blows the fire up.
Life is not easy, especially after the honeymoon phase is over. Real life burns, and jumping over the fire requires the couple working together.
Life is not easy, especially after the honeymoon phase is over. Real life burns, and jumping over the fire requires the couple working together. The engaged couples and the newlyweds affirm their love and commitment to building a life together. The groom’s presence proves that he will be there to help her jump and fly safely over any heartbreaks or disappointments. He will be there to guide her through anger, pain or through other dangers in life, just like when he was there lovingly when she jumped over the bonfire during Dyarenentarach. This is the truest Valentine’s gift.
Rachel Melikian is the former GCC Woman of the Year.