by Elizabeth Venart
The town of Phoenixville has been hosting an annual Firebird Festival for ten years. The ceremonial lighting of a magnificent 30-foot sculpture of a wooden phoenix is the pinnacle of the festivities, which also include music, crafts, and a parade through town. Amidst dancing and drumming and in front of crowds of thousands, the enormous bird is set ablaze and burned down to ashes.
An Ancient Myth that Speaks to Phoenixville’s History
The ceremony dramatizes the mythical Phoenix Rising, a sacred firebird that lives for 500-1,000 years until it builds itself a nest where it meets a fiery end. From the ashes rises a new, young, or re-born, bird that lives as long as its original self. 1 During the Phoenixville ceremony, small ceramic “peace birds,” which have been created by community members of all ages, are placed at the base of the sculpture and fired in the kiln of its flames. Like the mythical phoenix, these little birds carry the promise of new life. Twelve months later, from their ashes, the phoenix stands stories high and is burned again.
Phoenixville organizers created the ceremonial burning of the as a way to honor their town’s resurgence. Phoenixville named itself after the Phoenix Iron Works and had a strong iron and steel manufacturing history until 1976 when the renamed Phoenix Steel Corporation closed due to rising competition and falling demand. Phoenixville experienced a period of tremendous struggle, yet it faced these challenges with creativity and determination.
The Firebird Festival celebrates Phoenixville’s rebirth and, like Phoenixville itself, it has grown steadily over the past decade. This December 6th was scheduled to be the 11th Annual Firebird Festival, with predicted attendance of over 12,000 people. However, in the early morning on that Saturday, vandals burned down the giant phoenix statue that artists and builders had spent months constructing. In a true testament to the strength of this local community, volunteers donated their time, money, and wood to aid in the heroic reconstruction of a new Firebird in time for the evening’s festival.
A Wonderful Metaphor for Resiliency
Initially horrified and saddened by the news that the beautiful sculpture had been destroyed, I was profoundly moved to see how people rallied behind the event organizers and actively worked to create the new structure. In this photo, taken that rainy evening among a large crowd of enthusiastic supporters, I see the phoenix rise and a resilient community further empowered.
Life will undoubtedly throw curveballs our way. We strengthen our resiliency not by avoiding the inevitable bumps and detours along the journey but by growing to face them – and transform ourselves in the process. The people of Phoenixville demonstrated the vibrancy of their resilience this December. I was honored to witness and be a part of it.
To learn more about the event, check out this article by NBC10 who covered the story, focusing on the outpouring of support that insured the 11thAnnual Firebird Festival would still happen [Insert link to: http://www.nbcphiladelphia.com/news/local/Community-Pitches-in-After-Vandals-Burn-Down-Firebird-Festival-Phoenix-284979371.html].
1 Phoenix Mythology, https://www.princeton.edu/~achaney/tmve/wiki100k/docs/Phoenix_%28mythology%29.html