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Niola, Marino

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La Repubblica - Italy | 02/01/2008

Playing with fire on the threshold of the new year

One person has been killed and 473 have been wounded in Italy as a result of traditional firecrackers and shots fired into the air to celebrate the new year. The anthropologist Marino Niola ponders this sad toll. "This is a thousand-year-old rite practised in the most diverse societies, which celebrates the end of the year with fire and noise: fire, an instrument for purification and renewal, is used to burn away the past's residue whilst lighting up the future. ... But if a passion for fire is itself the residue of ancient rituals, the excess that transforms joy into tragedy is the symptom of an autistic decadence among festive communities. This knocks collective celebration into a sombre, antisocial disintegration of social cohesion."

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