A bonfire or balefire is a large controlled outdoor fire made from bales of straw or wood. The word is believed to come from "bone fire".
In the time of the Celts, there were midsummer festivals where animal bones were burnt to ward off evil spirits.
Bonfires were also used for rituals. The idea was that the fire would purify. It was used to consecrate things, or people, that are to make them sacred, in some way.
In ancient times, cattle were important symbols of wealth and status. Such cattle were led through the smoke of a bonfire.
Couples who were to be wed on May Day would leap through the flames of the bonfire to seal their vows. Coals from a bonfire would be taken home to light the fires in family hearths. This practice was thought to bring good fortune.