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Five Reasons Why Campfires are a Really Good Thing for Your Family

August 20, 2018 by

photo of a campfire

It’s been said that technology is the campfire around which we tell our stories. If that’s true – and I, for one, beg to differ – then we’ve settled for a pretty lousy substitute. When I say campfire, I mean the real, live, dancing-flame deal. The kind that draws you in, makes your eyes smart from the smoke, warms your face and hands, and feeds your soul.

Campfires are a big thing in my life, and that’s really my parents’ fault. They started it.

Our family was large – ten kids ranging in age from newborn to just beginning college – and getting everyone together at the same time was a challenge. Even harder was getting everyone to share a focus. Recognizing that, my parents established two family rituals: one for the whole year round, and one for the seasons that allowed it.

The first ritual they insisted on was that we eat breakfast together as a family. Every day. But that’s a feat of heroism I’ll discuss in another post.

The second ritual was campfires. From May to October, and sometimes into November, if Indian Summer lingered in upstate New York, we would end at least two evenings a week around a campfire.

When my younger siblings and I were small, the place for fires was under the old apple tree in our backyard. When we were all super-cool teens and our older siblings had left to start families of their own, our fires moved to the Pebble Patch. Later still, our campfires moved to The Rock. All of us kids were married then, and living in different states and continents, so family campfires inevitably were less frequent events. By then, Dad and Mom, still way-too-young, were both dying of cancer, and our collective hearts were breaking.

Where the campfire was didn’t really matter, nor what particular set of family and friends gathered around it, nor even how frequently we managed to put match to wood. What mattered was the fire itself, and the way it melded us together.

Today my home is in Australia. That means we get to campfire – starting now, I’m officially claiming that as a verb – from September to May. (I know, I know, it’s okay to be jealous. But you’re welcome anytime!)

Gathering around a flame is primal and precious and perfectly healing.

I’ll admit that during winter’s brief cameo here in northern New South Wales, I prefer the indoors. But as the days lengthen and spring returns, I’m the first out the door of an evening to get the old fire pot going. And when the sons place the wooden crates around it to serve as chairs, and we circle up with the fire blazing in the middle, I get that same feeling I’ve had since I was a little girl: that at least for this moment, while the fire burns, everything’s going to be okay.

So, here are my top five reasons why you should campfire (and if you can’t campfire because you live in an urban setting, or are under a local burn ban, light a candle, or a wood stove if you’re lucky enough have one. You’ll get close to the same results.)

  1. It creates a wonderful ritual that carries serious memory power: sitting around a campfire will become the natural ending to the day’s events. Whether you’ve just risen from that superb, summertime barbeque, or everyone’s home from the scattered schedules of camp or athletics, the fire brings everyone together and in a circle. Often, when we ask our kids for their favorite holiday memories, “sitting around the campfire” leads the list. 

  2. It calms the kids down and makes them sleepy: when you sit around the campfire, you can see the kids visually relax. The smoke drives the mosquitoes away and makes the kids drowsy. The flames are fascinating to watch as they change, flicker, grow and then diminish into glowing coals. If you’re serving nibbles or roasting marshmallows, nobody gets mad when stuff falls on the ground because, it’s the ground.

  3. The neighbors will come over and join you: I promise you, this one is true. Light up a campfire and you can guarantee that the shy neighbor who never says yes to anything will sidle over through the gate with a fabricated excuse to borrow something. Before long, you’ve put a glass in their hands and they’re hunkering by the fire. You realize when they’re gone that you never gave them that cup of sugar or whatever it was they asked for, but that’s okay, it just means they’ll be back. The campfire does it again.

  4. It’s a great venue for reading aloud: I’ve lost count of the times we’ve read Dickens’ A Christmas Carol around a fire, under the stars, the kids stretched out on their backs southern-sky star gazing. We can’t get through the festive season without Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales, Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory and O. Henry’s The Gift of the Magi. (Besides, in the dark, nobody sees if you accidentally shed a tear – you can just blame the smoke!) For those kids who struggle to focus during family read-alouds, the flames or sunset or stars cause that perfect distraction. For the non-Christmas season, our most popular reads consist of anything by Patrick McManus, Mark Twain, or Gary D. Schmidt.

  5. It creates a space for difficult conversations: this too, is true. Because everyone is looking into the flames and not directly at each other, it’s easier to approach more sensitive topics without being confrontational. Because a shared fire lowers our defenses in the best of ways, we can story tell, and truth tell, and spread the warmth of hope and grace and reassurance. Gathering around a flame is primal and precious and perfectly healing and while it’s dangerous to play with matches, it’s life-changing to campfire.


To keep up with Norann and her thoughts on motherhood, discipleship, and great recipes, follow her on Twitter at @NorannV. Comments

About the author

Norann Voll portrait

Norann Voll

Norann Voll lived in New York’s Hudson Valley until moving to the Danthonia Bruderhof in New South Wales, Australia in 2002...

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  • Having had the enormous privilege of sharing such a campfire with Norann and her wonderful family, I can testify to the truth of what she says in this blog. Truly a transformative experience, and (as she says in her first paragraph) so much more enriching than the technological campfires we have adopted in our modern culture. Oh yes, and 'to campfire' should definitely be a verb!

    Tom Kennar