The first time I saw photos of the gigantic bonfire in Norway I wondered how far back the tradition goes. Since the giant fire was built out of shipping pallets, there is some reason to think the tradition is recent. Summer fires are obviously an old tradition, but not giant fires.
Without knowing and without any evidence whatsoever I suggest that this Norwegian giant bonfire comes from Japan via me.
In 1977, Carol Rae and I witnessed a spectacular summer bonfire just Northeast of Kyoto in a clearing where a 40 foot high structure with a flower arrangement of wood was on the top and was lighted after dark. It was a spectacular sight. Sparks falling everywhere.
When we got back to San Francisco Carol suggested, around New Year's, that we have a similar bonfire on the beach. I organized it with 40 dead Christmas trees and 200 friends. I did it regularly for three years.
Our New Year’s bonfire is now, half a century, later celebrated on the entire San Francisco beach.
The founder of Burning Man, John Law, (the man who designed and built the neon Burning Man) in one of his books attributes the first Burning Man event at China Beach to John's duplication of my bonfire's.
Transmission of anything cultural is very difficult to establish. Long ago, I noticed that the word in English and Japanese for ‘hobo’ is the same and first appears in English after the American Adm. Perry returned from Japan. Hobo in Japan is a homeless Ronin.
I know that the same is true for the word ‘bonfire’. English dictionaries attributed the word to ‘bone’ fires which makes no sense since bone fires would not be large.
On the other hand the ‘bon’ celebration in Japan involves gigantic fires every year dating back millennia. ‘Bon’ is a Japanese word and ‘bonfire’ makes perfect sense if the word came from Japanese.
Talk among yourselves.