Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Fiery Festival

Every year, a new and uniquely built Phoenix goes up in flames.
Phoenixville is a borough which has charmed me several times and, as a writer, I count among its blessings its very name.

That's because it contains a symbol known to all and easily used as a way to promote the town.

Nothing better epitomizes this than the annual Firebird Festival scheduled to be held at 3 N. Main St. this Saturday.

Events at the site, opposite the Foundry Building, between Molly Maguire's and Pickering Creek, begin at 4 p.m., but, according to the schedule, a broad variety of events are also scheduled at businesses all around the site.

(By the way, that's how it is supposed to work when you have event downtown -- the businesses there figure out a way to capitalize upon it.)
Fire dancers will be among the attractions.

the fact that there are too many to list here should tell you two things: First, that there are a lot of them and, second, that I am kind of lazy.

Events include fire dancers, music, a carillion with 25 bronze bells, a parade down Bridge Street, storytelling, crafts and puppets.

The Phoenix itself, built new every year, gets lit at 8 p.m.

According to the elaborate and expertly arranged web site devoted to this festival:
A new and unique Phoenix is built each year.
The Phoenix holds an exalted place in the myths of many of the great world cultures.
The Egyptians called it the Bennu and depicted it as a heron with brilliant plumage and a fethered crest on its head. The Greeks called it by the name we use today; Phoenix, which means red, the color most associated with fire and with the sun, and described it as resembling something between an eagle and a peacock. Both the Egyptians and the Greeks believed that this fabulous bird lived in Heilopolis, The City of the Sun, and that at the end of its very long life - 500 to 1500 years - it builds its own pyre from incense and precious woods and is consumed in sacred fire. Out of the ashes springs the new phoenix thus symbolizing resurrection and renewal.
The 2008 Phoenix
The web site also closes the loop, by informing us how this ancient symbol came to be connected to Phoenixville's name and the iron and steel company that lent its name to the municipality:
In 1813, Lewis Wernwag, the owner of the first iron company built on the confluence of the French Creek and the Schuylkill River - known at the time as the French Creek Works - was looking at his furnaces one evening from a nearby hillside and saw a Phoenix in the flames. This vision inspired him to rename his company Phoenix Works. When the community that grew up around the iron works became incorporated in 1849 the name Phoenixville was a natural choice for the new borough.
A number of traditions have built up around this very imaginative event.

One of this year's crop.
Among them is, keeping with the myth, the creation of new Phoenixes from the old.

This is done with small clay birds that actually get fired in the fire of the outgoing Phoenix.
The finished product from a previous year.
Around 150 clay birds were created at the Phoenix Village Art Center, now ready to be fired in the Phoenix. Sunday morning after the burn, they will be exhumed from the ashes. 

But there is something new this year, a call for help.

This how the web site worded it:
The 2012 Phoenix is ready to be burned.
As this event grows bigger, so do our expenses. So this year we're asking a little something of y'all... we're setting up "ticket" booths for a Suggested Donation Admissionof $3 per person. If you can spare three Washingtons, it will help A LOT! If not, you're totally welcome anyway.
Either way, we're looking forward to seeing you at the festival.
There will be lots of hot food, cool crafts and brilliant performances, but hardly any credit card readers, so please remember to bring plenty of cash, and come have a grand time.

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